For the past few years, the state of New York has been trying to legalize what is considered the largest marijuana black market in the whole of the United States to no avail. However, just this year, the state has successfully passed the Marijuana Legislation and Taxation Act, with Governor Andrew Cuomo having signed it into law on March 31, 2021.
This monumental approach earned New York the title of being the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. This is expected to bring in approximately $4.2 billion in the next five years alone, as well as an avenue to bring in around $350 million in annual tax revenues, and of course, the creation of thousands of jobs for the people of New York.
Why Gov. Cuomo Signed Off on the Marijuana Bill
One of the reasons that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the marijuana bill into law was that the state of New York was already underwater after being hit with a massive $15 billion deficit in its budget after dealing with the effects and the aftermath of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
With the marijuana industry in New York alone expecting to bring in over $300 million in annual tax revenues, it appears that it is enough for Cuomo to rally and approve the bill, with the governor acknowledging the amount and funding it could bring to the state.
While Governor Cuomo has pushed for recreational cannabis legalization in the past, the main issue lies in the allocation of funds, particularly on the communities affected by the war on drugs.
What You Need to Know About Cannabis in New York
Given the changes that the legalization of recreational cannabis would bring in New York, one might think that they can just go off to any neighborhood dispensary to buy their much-awaited stash. While this is certainly the goal, New Yorkers would have to know that this is not possible just yet.
As a matter of fact, at the very least, it could take a few months for regulations to be written and agreed upon by state officials. After all, this will determine the type of cannabis a person can buy, where one can consume these, and who the legitimate sellers of these will be.
Sales may take up to one to two years before it starts rolling, especially with the state officials having the need to establish regulations prior to giving out licenses for dispensaries, manufacturers, and the like.
Adults, that is, those aged 21 and older, can now possess up to three ounces of marijuana or an equivalent amount of 24 grams for concentrated cannabis products, all of which should be used recreationally.
Those who are legally prescribed medical marijuana can easily visit a dispensary and make the necessary purchase. Currently, the list of eligible medical conditions includes chronic pain, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. The state of New York has recently expanded this list to include more conditions such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, insomnia, and muscular dystrophy.
Smoking weed will now be accepted wherever it is legal to smoke tobacco in the state. Restrictions for smoking both tobacco and cannabis remain for areas such as schools, cars, and places of work. Beaches, boardwalks, as well as parks, can also see both tobacco and weed being banned. Those who are caught smoking in these places will be fined $50.
Apart from the aforementioned locations, bars, restaurants, as well as subways, ferries, and the like, are also off-limits when it comes to smoking weed. A violation could either get individuals a $25 fine or 20 hours of community service if they are caught.
All in all, avid marijuana fans can still consume these on the sidewalks, their own home, unless otherwise stated by their landlord, and the streets.
With gray areas still in place, having dedicated consumption sites in the near future could further provide users and smokers with a safer space, particularly those that share the cannabis culture values. These sites will be located within different municipalities, although each municipality would have control over whether they allow these lounges or not.
Those who plan to have a good amount of marijuana at home for recreational purposes will be happy to know that they will be allowed to cultivate up to six plants at home, with a total of twelve plants per household. The same goes for medical marijuana patients or their caregivers.
The catch with growing marijuana at home is that recreational users will only be allowed to do so 18 months after the first dispensary in the state opens. Meanwhile, medical marijuana patients and their caregivers will be allowed to grow marijuana starting January 2022.
Existing Cannabis Laws in the State
Following the announcement and signing of the marijuana bill into law in New York, police officers will no longer be allowed to arrest individuals who carry pot or have a small amount of cannabis on them. Moreover, the law also ensures that individuals who are caught doing so will not be run under the system by the prosecutors in charge.
Another great thing to come out of the Marijuana Legislation and Tax Act is that NYPD officers cannot charge individuals selling marijuana, unless a cash transaction is being observed or done at the moment. Of course, it remains illegal to drive under the influence, so police officers can still pull over individuals who they suspect have taken cannabis and have their driving skills impaired.
Besides these, possession of more than 3 ounces up to 8 ounces of marijuana will be charged with a misdemeanor, a maximum fine of $1,000, and one year of incarceration. Those who go beyond this will be charged with a felony and will be imprisoned for a minimum of four years and a minimum fine starting from $5,000. Similar charges are also in place for the sale of marijuana.
In line with this, the cannabis program will also see to it that those who have been convicted of cannabis-related offenses will have their records expunged, provided that the offenses they have created are no longer considered criminal under the law.
As of writing, there are around 108,000 cases that still need to have their records expunged. This number could still rise when all the records in place have been reviewed and it could take years to fully expunge the records.
Supporting Marijuana Businesses from People of Color
New York has had a long history on the War on Drugs as with the whole country. Prior to the decriminalization of marijuana and the legalization of recreational cannabis, a higher percentage of individuals arrested were people of color.
In New York alone and between 1987 and 2016, minorities such as Black or Latinos have accounted for 85% of marijuana-related arrests in the state. This number pertains to low-level marijuana possession. In 2020, this number went up by as much as 94% for all marijuana-related arrests, despite pro-legalization politicians lobbying for change.
This shows that people of color living in New York are still subject not only to racial profiling, but also largely racist marijuana enforcement approaches.
Although the Marijuana Legislation and Taxation Act came many years after the cry for legalization and decriminalization of the drug, this is certainly a chance to give back to communities and New Yorkers who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.
At the same time, this law is slated to provide people of color more equity and stake in the cannabis industry, what with the bill aiming to provide at least half of cannabis licenses to social equity applicants and these include minorities, as well as women-owned businesses operating in the industry. Farmers and service-disabled veterans will also be included in this category.
Having affected countless individuals, families, and communities in the War on Drugs, the search for social and racial justice continues with the lawmakers ultimately deciding to allocate 40% of the annual tax revenue from sales to these affected communities.
Moreover, part of the taxes collected from the sale of cannabis will be geared towards the rehabilitation of communities and their respective organizations impacted by the War on Drugs, schools and educational initiatives, and the treatment of drugs.
While 50% of licenses aim to be given out to businesses and individuals who fall under the social equity category, when it comes to equity, the state of New York still has a long way to go in providing these disproportionately affected communities with opportunities to prosper and go against the big names in the industry.
In order for the cannabis industry to truly thrive and provide a safe space not only for users and smokers, but also for entrepreneurs of color, it appears that marijuana cooperatives are the way to go as it protects and keeps the interests of these people at heart.
These cooperatives can serve as a jump-off point for people to get started in the business, whether it is to gain more funding or to start somewhere without judgement, particularly for those who have criminal records or even bad credit.
Key Events and Celebrations That Honor Marijuana
Now that the buzz surrounding cannabis legalization is up and running, it makes sense that the industry is starting to pick up again. This means that the cannabis culture in New York is alive and well and it is not going anywhere any time soon.
With vaccinations against the Covid-19 on a roll in New York and other neighboring states, coupled with easing restrictions in some states, it seems that in-person cannabis events are finally making a comeback. Below are some of these key events and happenings that celebrate cannabis in all its forms.
New York City Cannabis Parade & Rally
While the New York City Cannabis Parade & Rally may already be over for the year, individuals who are in full support of marijuana can still enjoy this next year and the years to come. After all, it is one of the longest-running marijuana legalization events in the world.
This event includes a two-hour rally starting from Broadway to Union Square. Attendees of this event range from elected officials, performers, and industry experts to share different insights and to give a fun-filled event.
Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo
The Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo will be making a return to the Javits Center this year for what is expected to be a marvelous and engaging three-day event in November. Geared towards B2Bs, this expo is designed to help participants boost their network and learn from industry leaders in the world of cannabis.
High NY: Cannabis Business Banquet
Set on September 14, 2021, this banquet brings the best of both worlds by discussing the business of cannabis over a luxurious 7-course meal with some of the finest leaders in the industry.
This is perfect for individuals and entrepreneurs who want to successfully permeate the business as this will touch on cannabis license applications, the legalization of cannabis, the secrets behind a successful marijuana business, and many others. The fee for this is $249.99.
Stoned Laughs: A Cannabis & Comedy Event
Those who are looking for a laugh amid these troubling times will certainly find it in this night of comedy, especially when it comes with access to some of the best cannabis products out there. Ticket prices range from $20 to $30 and what a great deal this is as this already comes with access to some of the best and most underrated performers.
Produced by the Stoner Morning Show, this comedic event promises lots of laughter from the likes of Luz Michelle, Zilla Vodnas, Valarie Apperson, Christie Jake, Chris Schurr, and Laura Rankin.
With the legalization of marijuana in the state of New York bringing a new wave of hope and excitement, its respective cannabis culture is slated to boom even more in the upcoming months and years. While the state still has a long way to go, New Yorkers won’t have to hold their breath for a long time since state officials are bound to come up with regulations befitting what has long been in demand.