Start spreading the news: weed is legal today in old New York.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in the state, the culmination of several years of false starts and failed efforts.
In a statement, Cuomo hailed the moment as “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.”
Immediate and Planned Legal Reforms
The law paves the way for the creation of a new marijuana industry in the state, though regulated sales of pot aren’t expected to begin for at least 18 months. But the new law will also usher in some immediate changes. For example, New Yorkers are now legally allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate. And according to the New York Times, New Yorkers “are permitted to smoke cannabis in public wherever smoking tobacco is allowed, though localities and a new state agency could create regulations to more strictly control smoking cannabis in public,” though smoking pot “is not permitted in schools, workplaces, or inside a car.”
Cuomo made it clear at the start of the year in his annual State of the State address that he wanted legalization tackled in 2021, though he made similar calls in both 2020 and 2019. But there was a sense this time would be different, perhaps in part because New York’s neighbors—New Jersey—had begun taking steps to implementing its own legal pot program after voters passed a legalization measure last year.
There were also recent suggestions that Cuomo, marred by allegations of sexual misconduct that have prompted several New York Democrats to call for his resignation, may have been particularly motivated to get marijuana reform passed to stave off the growing scandal.
“This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible,” Cuomo said in a statement on Wednesday.
The new law also addresses criminal justice and record expungement of prior offenders. According to Cuomo’s office, the law creates “automatic expungement or resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding” and “adds cannabis to the clean indoor air act which establishes a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked or vaped.”
Cuomo’s office said that the new law will also significantly expand the state’s established medical cannabis program by allowing “people with a larger list of medical conditions to access medical marijuana, increase the number of caregivers allowed per patient, and permit home cultivation of medical cannabis for patients.”