Marijuana in New York is legal for medical and recreational use. New York citizens aged 21 and older are allowed to possess up to 85 grams or 3 ounces of cannabis or 24 grams and 0.85 ounces of concentrated cannabis.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2016 under the New York Compassionate Care Act. The Act, also known as S7923, authorized patients and approved caregivers to own, consume, produce, distribute, transport, and administer medicinal marijuana. As part of efforts to expand New York's medical marijuana program, the Department of Health stated in 2017 that patients may now take medicinal marijuana in a variety of new methods, making it simpler for prospective patients to get access to registered dispensaries. Until then, New York's medical marijuana offerings were mostly limited to liquids and oils for vaporization and capsules to be taken orally. Now, medical marijuana is available in chewable tablets, lozenges, and ointments.
The medical marijuana program registry is a program that allows patients in New York to register for identity cards and get access to cannabis from authorized shops. The medical marijuana program is administered by the Department of Health and oversees the certification, purchasing, and dispensing for patients and caregivers. Registered patients may hold up to 60 days supply of approved medical cannabis products at any time. Certified patients in New York can purchase medical cannabis from state-regulated organizations operating dispensaries in any New York location.
Recreational marijuana was legalized in New York in March 2021.The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) enables people 21 and older to possess, buy, exhibit, acquire, and transport marijuana in restricted amounts. Although the MRTA took effect immediately, the sale of recreational-use marijuana is expected to begin by the end of 2022. The MRTA also creates the Office of Cannabis Management to set standards, license, inspect, and enforce the laws with respect to marijuana businesses in New York State.
The MRTA stipulated penalties for possessing more than the legal limits of cannabis. These penalties include:
a violation punishable by a fine of $125, for possession of over 3 to 16 ounces of cannabis or more than 24 grams to 5 ounces of concentrated cannabis
a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, for possession of more than 16 ounces of cannabis or more than 5 ounces of concentrated cannabis
a felony punishable by 15 months to 7 years in jail, for possession of over 5 pounds of cannabis or 2 pounds of concentrated cannabis
Although you may now possess certain amounts of cannabis, it is illegal to sell cannabis unless you possess a license for a medical dispensary. Penalties include:
Selling up to 3 ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis is a violation which may be penalized by a fine of up to $250.
Selling over 3 ounces to 16 ounces of cannabis, or over 24 grams to 5 ounces of concentrated cannabis, is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 1 year in jail.
Selling over 16 ounces of cannabis or over 5 ounces of concentrated cannabis is a felony, with punishments ranging from 15 months to 15 years in jail, depending on the amount
Recreational marijuana purchases will require the provision of valid photo IDs that establishes the buyers are of the legal age to purchase cannabis. New York has no specific law exempting felons from using marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.
Smoking or vaporizing approved medical cannabis products is illegal in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited in New York. Individuals are not permitted to vaporize a medical marijuana product within 100 feet of public or private school grounds, unless on private property. Consuming medical cannabis is also prohibited in motor vehicles on public and private roads or parked in any lot. It is illegal to transport marijuana products outside of New York.
Following the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York in 2021, the cannabis industry has been growing substantially, with more licenses issued for dispensaries, and more consumers exiting from the unregulated market. According to the marijuana legalization impact assessment report, the cannabis industry is projected to generate potential tax revenue of more than $350 million annually and up to 60,000 jobs in 2022.
To estimate potential tax revenues, the average retail price of marijuana in New York State was used in the 2018 report. The average retail price for marijuana was reported as $270 per ounce for medium quality strains and $340 per ounce for high-quality strains. The report also estimated that purchases of illegal marijuana in New York State at 6.5 to 10.2 million ounces annually.
Based on the analysis and assumptions made in the report, the estimated potential total tax revenue in the first year ranges from $248.1 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $340.6 million (with a 15% tax rate). In another less conservative estimate included in the report, estimated potential tax revenue ranged from $493.7 million (with a 7% tax rate) to $677.7 million (with a 15% tax rate). In all, the impact of the cannabis industry is expected to multiply through the New York economy generating up to a total of $4.1 billion a year in economic activity for New York State.
While the impact assessment report published in 2018 used tax estimates of between 7% and 15%, New York State eventually settled on a 13% tax on retail marijuana - 9% state excise tax and 4% local excise tax. Tax revenues generated are expected to cover the costs required to administer the legal cannabis program in New York State. Beyond that, the remainder is divided in the following ways:
40% to the State Lottery Fund for Education
40% to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which would be used to support the social and economic equity programs as established by the appropriate authorities.
20% to the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, which would finance additional drug treatment programs, health care services and programs, as well as public health campaigns to teach the public about responsible cannabis use.
In New York, marijuana possession generally covers possession in public view or burning in public, possession of between 25 grams and two ounces, and possession of between 2 and 8 ounces. However, marijuana sales cover purchases of under 25 grams or less than one ounce of the product. Marijuana possession, as opposed to the sale, accounts for the vast majority of misdemeanor marijuana arrests.
In New York City, law enforcement officers made 437 and 230 arrests for marijuana sale and possession in 2020 and 2021 respectively. For the first and second quarter of 2022, marijuana-related arrests in New York City were 68. Between 2020 and 2021, there is a 47% decrease in marijuana arrests within the city. The state changes to marijuana laws may contribute to the significant drop in marijuana-related arrests.
According to the Department of Criminal Justice in New York, marijuana possession accounts for most misdemeanor marijuana arrests. In 2019, 2018, and 2017 marijuana possession-related arrests for New York State stood at 1,122, 7475, and 17,122. Between the three years, there was a 93% reduction in marijuana possession-related arrests in New York.
With recreational marijuana passed in March 2021, there are currently no sufficient statistics to indicate current marijuana crime trends in light of the new legislation. However, the New York State marijuana legalization impact assessment report anticipates an overall reduction in marijuana possession and sale arrests in the future.
Marijuana was allowed in New York when it first emerged in the 1800s. However, the drug's legal position in the state has changed many times since then. In 1906, Congress approved The Food and Drug Act, which allowed citizens in New York to have a prescription for marijuana. Following a July 1927 New York Times story of a whole family being injured by the consumption of marijuana plants, the substance was outlawed in all forms across the entire state.
In 1939, New York Mayor Fiorelli LaGuardia assembled a committee called the LaGuardia Committee to determine the effect of marijuana in the community. The committee released its report in 1944 and indicated that cannabis was not widely associated with addiction or violent behavior. However, the report was branded unscientific by the commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Named after the governor, the Rockefeller Drug Laws went into effect in 1973, with stricter penalties prescribed for anyone selling two ounces or more of several different substances, including marijuana. The stricter penalties included a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. Later in 1977, possession of marijuana in quantities of 25 grams or less was decriminalized. Possession of that amount of marijuana was decreased to an infraction that merited only a fine of $100. Note that this did not include possession of marijuana while in public view.
In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio directed the New York Police Department (NYPD) to only issue tickets for small possession of marijuana even in cases where the 1977 law prescribes arrests, such as cannabis entering "public view" during stop-and-frisk occasions.
In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo approved legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The legislation went into effect within 18 months and formed a program to provide medical marijuana to patients provided it was not the inhaled form of the product. The legislation also included the number of marijuana licenses to be provided. Five marijuana licenses were granted, with each licensee permitted to operate four dispensaries.
In 2018, Governor Cuomo asked the Department of Health to look into the social, economic, and legal consequences of the legalization of recreational marijuana. On completion of the study, the report recommended the legalization of recreational marijuana.
On March 31, 2021, New York joined 15 other states by legalizing recreational marijuana when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). Adults 21 and older may now possess up to three ounces of marijuana or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis plants outside their residences, according to MRTA rules. The newly created Office of Cannabis Management has been tasked with enforcing the regulations governing the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State. The legal sale of recreational cannabis began in 2022.