New York Finally Legalized Adult-Use Weed, and Now It's Time to Party
The legislation was simultaneously approved by the House and Senate yesterday, and Cuomo signed the bill into law within hours of it arriving on his desk.
Published on March 31, 2021

This has been a long time coming. As of Wednesday, March 31, weed is officially L-E-G-A-L in New York. Governor Cuomo reportedly signed New York’s legalization bill into law within hours of lawmakers putting it on his desk. That makes the Empire State the 14th US state to regulate the adult-use of marijuana, and the third state to do so by the legislation of lawmakers, rather than a voter-approved ballot measure.

While momentum built throughout March, no one knew if legal weed laws would truly materialize, considering how many times NY lawmakers have fumbled the opportunity for legalization. Things got especially concerning when reports of a cannabis legislation meeting turned into shouting match about three weeks ago. But, it all came to a head this past Tuesday, when the NY Senate voted 40-23 in favor of legalization, with Republicans and three Democrats voting against the legalization. (Seriously, though — get with the times or get left behind, people!)

Now it’s impossible not to focus on how much green there’s to be made from these new greener pastures: $4.2 billion a year, to be exact, according to a study sponsored by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association. That means New York will have the largest cannabis economy in the country. (California is the largest at the moment, with $3.5 billion sold in 2020.) According to the governor’s office, that amounts to some $350 million a year in taxes for the state government. 

But many legislators have resisted the notion that legalizing cannabis in the state is all about the financial benefits. 

“A percentage of revenue that is raised will get invested into the communities where the people who suffered mass incarceration come from and still live in many cases,” legalization advocate Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes told the New York Times. “For me this is a lot more than about raising revenue: It’s about investing in the lives of the people that have been damaged.”

During Tuesday’s debate in the Senate, the bill’s sponsor Senator Liz Krueger said, “I’m not going out and telling everyone to use marijuana, just the opposite. But we are wasting lives, we are wasting generations of lives, we are wasting law enforcement budgets.”

Governor Cuomo has tried to pass legalization laws during the last three legislative sessions. But, divisions over how tax revenue should be spent and licenses apportioned — particularly, to the communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the racially-biased War on Drugs — have scuttled the plans until now. 

“I think this should have been passed years ago,” said the governor recently. “This is a year where we do need the funding and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. This year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line.”

New York is facing a budget shortfall of over $63 billion over the next four years. 

But, how is the legalization age looking for New Yorkers? Automatic expungements of marijuana-related charges will be initiated. Adults aged 21 and up will be able to carry up to three ounces of flower or 24 grams of concentrate, and store five pounds of weed at home. Home cultivation of up to six plants (with three of them mature at any time) is permitted. Cannabis consumers will also be protected against housing, education, and parental discrimination. 

Exciting for those with visions of Amsterdam in their heads, New York’s legalization includes allowances for social consumption sites. Delivery services will also be regulated. 

A 9 percent state sales tax and 4 percent local tax will be levied on retail product. 

Tax revenues from the cannabis industry are bookmarked to go to communities that have been unfairly impacted by Drug War policing — 40 percent, to be precise. Another 40 percent will go to public education, and the final 20 percent towards addiction services and drug education. 

The legislation will also expand New York’s narrow medicinal marijuana program, increasing the number of recognized health conditions, doubling the number of patients who are allowed to possess cannabis, and allowing them to smoke or vape their medicine. 

Weed should have been legal in New York years ago. But, now we’re here and it’s a great place to be. Cheers to freedom.

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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