In January, 2018, as part of New York’s state budget, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo commissioned a Public Health Study on cannabis. The report’s focus was to examine the potential impacts of expanding the medical marijuana program into recreational marijuana in New York. Cuomo made it very clear he, himself, was NOT an advocate of cannabis, too-often touting the outdated good-old-boy ‘gateway drug’ argument against the plant.
But he could see the writing on the wall and was sweating peer-pressure from the encroachers: from the east — Massachusetts, where adult-use cannabis passed in 2016; Vermont, from the far side of the Adirondacks — an early-adopter of medical weed (2004), where possession and cultivation were decriminalized en route to full legalization (which would pass in 2020); and from the north, weed-loving Canada. Even New Jersey was on the fast-track to full legalization. The very thought of New Yorkers breaking the law to bring Jersey weed into New York must have been, well, unthinkable.
Easing Weed Restrictions in New York is Better for the Empire State
The impact assessment, completed seven months later, concluded that potential benefits of legal weed in the Empire State outweighed any potential negative impacts. Easing research restrictions would allow for further study of the plant’s efficacy, and of course, there was the shit-ton of potential tax revenue for the state. The report also concluded that legalizing marijuana would give New York an opportunity to address the glaring racial disparity in marijuana convictions and reduce “disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of certain racial and ethnic minority communities.”
Local jurisdictions created task forces to identify goals and challenges for full legalization. By the end of the year, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s task force released recommendations for legal weed in the Big Apple, the primary focus of which was safety, health, and equity.
The New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act
In 2019, adult-use legalization in New York stalled, but lawmakers passed a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and beginning the process of expunging previous convictions for cannabis possession. Finally, in March of 2021, as he was entering the fight against sexual misconduct allegations (that would end his tenure as governor), Cuomo signed the Legislature-passed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, legalizing cannabis in the state of New York.
Immediately, New Yorkers 21+ were allowed to:
- smoke cannabis anywhere tobacco smoking is allowed (not near schools, at the workplace, or in a car),
- legally carry up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrate, and
- store up to five pounds of weed at home.
MRTA also set forth the automatic expungement of prior convictions for anyone possessing less than one pound or selling less than 25 grams (0.88 ounces) of cannabis, an action that will bring the cannabis expungement numbers in New York up into the 300,000 range. In addition, New York’s cannabis program includes a social and economic equity plan, whereby 50% of business licenses will be prioritized for applicants from socially- and economically-disadvantaged groups.
Cannabis Consumption Lounges in New York
MRTA, unlike the defeated Cuomo-backed Cannabis and Taxation Act (CRTA), also allows for consumption lounges. This was great news to organizers of New York’s underground weed party scene. While the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), and Cannabis Control Board (CCB), is slowly being staffed to get the rules of legalization ready by early next year, ‘speakeasy’ membership-only consumption lounges like are taking advantage of the in-between times. Cannabis membership clubs like The Bowery, Empire Cannabis Club, The Astor Club and SpleefNYC, have increased visibility beyond cryptic social media posts to take cater to weed-needs of the impatient.
Meanwhile, on the medical side: Certified medical cannabis patients received immediate benefits in MRTA, including an expanded list of qualifying conditions and acceptable medical marijuana purchase amounts doubling from a 30-day to a 60-day supply.
Where to Buy Legal Medical Weed in New York
Certified patients can purchase medicine tested for purity and potency today at New York Medical Marijuana dispensaries like:
Verilife dispensaries are found throughout New York state.
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