ALBANY, N.Y. – Legalization has finally arrived in New York after several years of ill-fated attempts. The Empire State became the sixteenth state to legalize recreational cannabis after Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law today.
Under MRTA, adults 21 and older are permitted to possess up to three ounces of cannabis flower and twenty-four grams of concentrate including oils and wax. Home cultivation will also be permissible under the new law.
Part of the momentum that led to New York finally approving cannabis legalization is related to criminal justice reform, something Governor Cuomo highlighted after signing the bill.
“This is a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety, and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis.”
Although portions of MRTA, including the three-ounce possession limit, are immediately effective, it will take some time before all of the regulations are finalized. For the time being, cannabis use will be permitted wherever tobacco use is allowed (with the exception of inside cars). However, local municipalities may aim to limit public consumption in the future. Eventually, residents of New York can expect consumption-style “lounges,” home delivery, and in-store sales.
Once the adult-use industry is up and running in New York, 40 percent of tax revenues from leagalized sales will be dedicated to helping communities most impacted by draconian cannabis enforcement. Individuals convicted of cannabis-related offenses that no longer are illegal will have their records expunged automatically. Additionally, those with past convictions—who often are prohibited from joining the cannabis industry—will be allowed to participate in the legalized industry.
New York has a long history of aggressively pursuing the arrest of individuals for cannabis possession. New York City, in particular, is notorious for its “stop-and-frisk” tactics, which unfairly target Black and Latinx communities. Many cannabis advocates and industry members are encouraged to finally see New York reversing its harsh policies toward cannabis.
“This signals an end to the racially discriminatory policies that have long made the Empire State the marijuana arrest capital of the United States, if not the world,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “This stops police from annually arresting tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers for low-level marijuana offenses, the majority of whom are overwhelmingly young, poor, and people of color.”
Empire State NORML Deputy Director Troy Smit knows how much work advocates have done to push for legalization.
“It’s taken a great amount of work and perseverance by activists, patients, and consumers, to go from being the cannabis arrest capital of the world, to lead the world with a legalized market dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Smit said. “This might not be the perfect piece of legislation, but today, cannabis consumers can hold their heads high and smell the flowers.”
National Cannabis Industry Association Chief Executive Officer Aaron Smith believes the United States is hitting a tipping point when it comes to national legalization.
“We are rapidly approaching a point where a majority of Americans will be living in states that have passed laws to regulate cannabis for adults, and we’re counting on Congress and the White House to finally harmonize federal law with these successful state programs.”