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New York Legalizes Adult-Use Recreational Cannabis

Apr 1, 2021

Third time must be the charm. After years of failed attempts, New York State has become the 15th state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. Voting in the state senate and the state assembly essentially went down party lines, with all Republicans and a few Democrats voting against the bill.

Gaining Momentum

Legalization has been a priority since 2018, after Democrats seized control of the state legislature and the New York State Department of Health conducted a study, under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s direction, that concluded that the positive impacts of legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis far outweigh the negatives. Then, in 2019, Governor Cuomo decriminalized penalties for the unlawful possession of certain amounts of cannabis.

Under the New Law

While sales are not expected to begin for about a year, individuals are now allowed to have up to three ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated forms of cannabis for recreational purposes. New York residents are allowed to smoke cannabis anywhere tobacco use is allowed, though state agencies and individual local governments may create more stringent rules. Smoking would not be permitted in schools, at the workplace, or in vehicles. The new law will allow for delivery service to individuals, the cultivation of up to six plants at home for personal use, medical patients to smoke the cannabis flower and an increase in the medication cap from 30 to 60 days.


The new legalized industry is expected to generate $350 million in annual tax revenue to New York State. One of the major roadblocks to prior legalization was how tax revenue from cannabis sales would be spent. This bill has earmarked 40% of tax revenue for communities where African-American and Latino individuals were disproportionally arrested. In addition, those with cannabis-related convictions where that conviction would no longer be criminalized will have their records expunged.


New York State’s recreational cannabis programs will be run by the Cannabis Control Board and the Office of Cannabis Management, two newly created New York State governmental entities. These entities will approve and issue licenses for all aspects of the cannabis industry, from cultivators to processors to dispensaries. It is expected that the system will allow holders to obtain only one type of license. For example, a cultivator would not be able to get a retail license for a dispensary. The Cannabis Control Board will review the industry after two years of retail sales and consider proposing adjustments to ensure licensing equity.

“I cannot be more proud to cast my vote to end the failed policies of marijuana prohibition in our state and begin the process of building a fair and inclusive legal market for adult use cannabis,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “It has been a long road to get here, but it will be worth the wait.”

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