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New York is the second-most populous state next to California to legalize recreational cannabis. In March of 2021, former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. A lot has happened since weed became legal in the Empire State, but much is still in the works. Here are the latest New York cannabis updates. 

New York recreational cannabis laws

Adults 21 and older can buy and possess up to three ounces of flower and 24 grams of concentrates. Consumers may only purchase cannabis at a state-licensed dispensary – so at this time, there is no legal way to obtain recreational cannabis. 

New York cannabis consumption laws are a bit different from other states with legal weed. Smoking marijuana in public is permitted in places where tobacco smoke is allowed. Conversely, New Yorkers cannot smoke in places that prohibit tobacco smoking. Public consumption lounges are also in the works and will provide an alcohol-free setting for social consumption. 

Eventually, New Yorkers will be able to cultivate their own cannabis plants. Adults 21 and older will be able to grow up to six personal-use plants in their home (three mature, three immature) with a maximum of 12 plants per household. Cultivation cannot start until the Office of Cannabis Management issues regulations, which will happen at least 18 months after adult-use retail sales begin.  

What’s up next for New York cannabis?

We’re all asking the same question: When will New York dispensaries open? While there is no concrete answer, we know it’s not expected to happen until at least 2023.

What’s the hold-up? The Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management are working to establish a regulated marketplace. The groups say they are being deliberate about steps and want to ensure their systems can manage the upcoming market. 

The two groups have made several changes to the state’s medical marijuana program in anticipation of the recreational market. They’ve expanded the types of providers permitted to certify medical marijuana patients and have also increased the number of plants patients can grow at home. Additionally, whole flower is now permitted in the medical cannabis program and the $50 registration fee for patients and caregivers has been removed. 

What about expungement for cannabis convictions?

Whenever a state legalizes recreational cannabis, attention turns to those with cannabis-related convictions. Data shows that 94% of New York cannabis arrests were directed at people of color in 2020. Will these convictions be expunged?

“New Yorkers of color are still overwhelmingly shouldering the brunt of the NYPD’s racist marijuana enforcement while other communities get a free pass,” Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney at the Community Justice Unit at the Legal Aid Society told amNY

According to data from the Office of Cannabis Management, approximately 203,000 marijuana-related charges are currently being suppressed from criminal background searches and are in the process of expungement. This is on top of the previous 198,000 records expunged in the first round of expungement back in 2019. 

Social equity plans 

The state plans to give 50% of licenses to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. This means people of color, women, disabled veterans, farmers in defined financial distress, and people from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. 

Priority will go to those earning 80% or less of their county’s median income, people in areas disproportionately affected by cannabis laws (determined by high incarceration rates), or those with criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Those with family members who have criminal cannabis convictions are also included. 

New York cannabis licenses

The new cannabis bill creates 10 license types. Existing businesses like medical marijuana dispensaries can grandfather in for licenses in the same category. They can obtain no more than twice their existing licenses, however. 

Some medical marijuana dispensaries are already preparing for the upcoming recreational market. 

“We are excited about the developments the NY Office of Cannabis Management will lead in 2022,” Hillary Peckham of New York medical marijuana dispensary chain Etain Health told us. “We recently updated the Etain branding, opened a new Manhattan dispensary that sells our premium medical marijuana products, and are currently expanding our growing facility in the Adirondacks.”

Available recreational licenses will include cultivation, retail, delivery, distribution, nursery, micro-business, laboratory, processor, on-site consumption, and small business adult-use cooperative. 

Those looking to start a cannabis business in New York will need to make sure they are not located in a municipality that has opted out of recreational cannabis.

The opt-out deadline for municipalities is approaching 

Municipalities can opt out of marijuana business operations before December 31st, 2021. If they fail to do so before the deadline, they will automatically enter the retail market. Those who choose to opt out can always opt back in at a later date. 

You can monitor the municipalities that have opted in or out of cannabis retail and cannabis consumption sites using this opt-out tracker from the Rockefeller Institute of Government. 

Hopes are high for the New York cannabis industry 

New York is home to one of the most visited destinations in the world. There’s no question that the upcoming cannabis market is set to bring in tax dollars and new jobs for the state. 

When the recreational cannabis bill passed, the industry was projected to capture $1.2 billion in sales by 2023. By 2027, sales were projected to reach $4.2 billion. 

Currently, New Yorkers are free to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and can smoke in public places where tobacco is allowed. Just don’t ask where they got it. 

“We look forward to being able to begin recreational sales in three of our dispensaries,” Ngiste Abebe, VP of Public Policy at Columbia Care told us. “The sooner legal sales are started the sooner jobs can be created and revenue generated to be reinvested in entrepreneurs and impacted communities.”