Adult-use recreational cannabis has finally been legalized since the end of March in the state of New York. While there is still no legal way to purchase cannabis items as of writing, it cannot be denied that a new cannabis landscape is slated to come out of this legalization, benefitting not only consumers but also the state’s economy.
While recreational marijuana legalization has taken quite some time to get to where it is today in New York, after numerous delays caused by political changes in the scene and the lack of appointment members of the state Cannabis Control Board (that are now, thankfully, fully appointed), it’s quite surprising that the state has made significant strides from where it was back then.
Although medical cannabis has long been available and decriminalized, the coming of recreational marijuana use is expected to change the game, especially for avid enthusiasts and cannabis activists that have long been lobbying for its legalization.
A Brief Background on Current Cannabis Laws in New York
While the Empire State has already decriminalized and legalized recreational marijuana use, actual retail sales are still up in the air. As a matter of fact, consumers will have to wait for quite some time before sales take effect in the state as these are expected to start in mid-2022, with possible delays being considered.
When it comes to cannabis consumption, there are also different rules that should be observed. In many ways, recreational cannabis and marijuana smoking can be likened to tobacco smoking, with both bearing similarities when it comes to laws.
In a nutshell, marijuana smoking is still not allowed in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited. These include inside cars, offices or workplaces, and of course, schools.
Driving under the influence is likewise prohibited. While police officers can still flag and pull suspected people over for impaired driving, they can no longer conduct intensive car searches.
Recreational marijuana users will now be allowed to legally grow cannabis plants at home, up to six, in fact. However, this can only take place once the first adult-use dispensary in New York has opened.
Another great thing that comes with legalizing cannabis in the Big Apple is that those with prior marijuana convictions can have their records expunged, provided that the activity they were involved in has been decriminalized as well.
Under the law, New Yorkers will be allowed to possess up to three ounces of marijuana for recreational use.
Any individual who has been found in violation of this will be charged, at the very least, a misdemeanor and will be fined up to $1,000 and a year of prison time. Meanwhile, those carrying over 8 pounds will be charged with a felony and will be levied a maximum fine of $5,000, with a minimum prison time of four years.
Latest Developments in the Cannabis Scene
While recreational marijuana sales are yet to start in the Big Apple, there are undoubtedly events and spaces that keep popping up to help celebrate the drug and its legalization.
One of the establishments that have quietly opened in New York is Empire Cannabis Clubs, a recreational use cannabis dispensary. As mentioned, cannabis sales are still not allowed, but Business Insider notes that it seems that the store is operating within a gray area, taking advantage of dispensary regulations that are not yet in place.
Having opened in September, Empire Cannabis Clubs takes pride in offering consumers with a comprehensive selection of 30 different delta-9 or marijuana strains. Edibles, as well as cartridges, are also in the company’s line-up.
A club in every sense of the word, Empire takes membership to new heights by allowing consumers to take part in a more exclusive membership either for a day or a monthly pass. What allows Empire to operate is precisely this business approach, with customers not technically paying for any cannabis product but instead, the membership that provides them with the cannabis in exchange. Pretty smart, eh?
As they are taking advantage of this loophole, it seems that the company is bridging the gap between the legalization of cannabis and the sales which is slated to take over the latter part of 2022 or even 2023. While they are not safe from the state of New York possibly pursuing a case against them, they are maximizing what they have to offer at the moment.
Yet another speakeasy of sorts that have gained traction in the past year or so is Stoned Gourmet Cannabis Pizza. This restaurant offers marijuana-infused dishes with the likes of pepperoni pizza and garlic knots made with THC.
Individuals who are eager to eat and try these marijuana-laced dishes would have to directly reserve through a private Instagram account. With the legalization in place, it seems that speakeasies like this can now operate without having, especially since dispensaries and consumptions sites are now allowed.
Cannabis in the Field of Art
The art scene is not one to miss out on celebrating the very much alive cannabis culture. Just this October, an exhibition called ‘The Stone Age’ opened at 607 Sixth Avenue in New York, just across Old Navy and Bed Bath and Beyond.
This cannabis-centric art exhibit is placed across an expansive 9,000-square foot location and it features psychedelic imagery and messages that pertain to the drug war. It also highlights the various stages that an individual experiences when taking marijuana, including enlightenment, awareness, and euphoria, to name a few. There are guides to help you along the way and to help usher you from one room to another.
There are also interactive rooms and stations, such as Jason Krugman’s work titled “Orgasm.” This particular creation is a musical device and a light installation of sorts and it allows visitors to take part in the exhibit by urging them to add their own sound.
Apart from bringing visitors to experience the various states of being, the exhibition also focuses on the War on Drugs and how it has impacted people of color and their respective families and communities. To do so, it sheds light on the history of the prohibition and on the experiences of prisoners who have been wrongfully targeted and convicted.
With the aim to raise awareness and find purpose, part of the proceeds of the exhibit will also go to the Last Prisoner Project.
Talking About Law
Just recently, the state of New York issued a new guidance on Tuesday, October 19, 2020, from Albany’s labor department that calls for banning employee mandatory drug testing in relation to marijuana.
According to Marijuana Moment, this latest development called by the Department of Labor makes New York one of the first states, if not the very first, to ban employers and businesses from having their employees tested for marijuana, unless the worker in question seems to be under the influence while on the job.
As part of the new rules laid out by the labor department, the New York Post states that even those individuals or employees who smell of marijuana will no longer be considered grounds for having employees take a drug test.
This rule coincides with the statement from the guidance that says, “Observable signs of use that do not indicate impairment on their own cannot be cited as an articulable symptom of impairment. Only symptoms that provide objectively observable indications that the employee’s performance of the essential duties or tasks of their position are decreased or lessened may be cited.”
Although many employees can now relax with a joint after a long day of work, there are still agencies and offices that do not fall under this. This includes NYPD officers, who are required to steer clear of marijuana even when off duty, as well as those under the regulations of the Department of Transportation.
While New York has made strides in preventing employers from testing their employees from marijuana, in the end, the guidance from the labor department still indicates that they have a say in preventing workers from possessing or bringing cannabis in the workplace, reports the New York Post.
Employers are also not required to penalize workers should they use or possess cannabis during working hours, but the option to do so still stands, notes Marijuana Moment.
This new regulation is a win, particularly against the war on drugs and the unjust racial practices that come with it, with drug screening being used to discriminate against people of color and other minorities.
Deputy director of NORML Paul Armentano said, “Times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat.”
What the Future Holds for the State of New York
With the legalization of cannabis in New York, the state is expected to come across $3.7 billion in sales by 2025. The projection of this massive amount is undoubtedly encouraging, particularly for businesses that want a share in making momentous strides. After all, not only will this help their company boom in the service of the people, this will also help the state recover from the global health crisis brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The booming legal cannabis industry in the Big Apple is definitely a huge development and it is expected to usher in numerous opportunities for businesses. Besides dispensaries, restaurants, manufacturers, and the like, can also take advantage of what the landscape has to offer.
The economic recovery for New York will also be fulfilled in a shorter amount of time, given that the demand for marijuana legalization has long been underway. With the legalization and regulations in place, underground businesses will no longer have to stay in the dark.
However, it appears that the retail spaces, as well as the choosing and granting of licenses, need to be carefully thought of by dispensaries and producers alike. Based on the current laws of New York, only current medical cannabis producers have the right to sell and cultivate cannabis, leaving new members of the recreational market to choose where they want to position themselves.
There are certainly challenges and speedbumps along the way, what with the legislation and the implementation of the cannabis program in New York still up for discussion by the council members after being appointed by Governor Kathy Hochul.
The members of the Cannabis Control Board still need to work out aspects such as licensing, regulations, zoning requirements, and the like, making it harder for businesses to determine what they need to do at the moment to permeate the space and strike while the iron is hot.
The cannabis industry has a long memory and while it has made strides in the field, there has to be social equity and recognition for the victims of the war on drugs. Thankfully, previous New York governor Andrew Cuomo touched on this, with Hochul following through, saying that those affected by the war on drugs definitely have a place in the industry.
It is imperative that displaced and disproportionately affected communities be given a seat on the table not only to provide a new perspective, but also to build a future where they have a voice. This is where licensing comes in and where people of color-owned cannabis businesses hope to establish a name for themselves.
Lastly, from an economic and commercial point of view, it’s important to point out that New York has positioned itself as a powerhouse. The cannabis legalization is only going to further its impact in the economic industry, playing a vital role in influencing not only neighboring cities and states, but also paving the way for the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs across the state.
The Bottom Line
Cannabis is certainly here to stay and the state of New York makes sure that they are on it every step of the way. With the whole world watching how the legal landscape is expected to unfold, one can only say that the future is certainly brighter than ever for the Empire State, with business and growth opportunities well on its horizon.