New York State Just Legalized Recreational Marijuana, Sort Of

You won't see cannabis dispensaries popping up just yet.

New York state recreational weed legalization
Jason Hoffman / Thrillist
Jason Hoffman / Thrillist

On Wednesday, March 31, New York became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2021, joining a rapidly growing list of places embracing the psychoactive plant. The legalization bill passed with ease on Tuesday night in both houses of state government, and in the morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation and made it official.

The bill allows for individuals 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate outside the home. It also allows for individuals to grow up to six plants in their homes—three mature plants and three immature plants—with a cap of six mature plants and six immature plants per household.

Unfortunately, while legalization of the plant is effective immediately, it's still illegal to sell recreational marijuana. The state needs time to establish a new state agency, the Office of Cannabis Management, and hammer out some regulatory details, meaning legal recreational sales probably won't begin until 2022 or 2023. That said, while you won't find any dispensaries popping up just yet, there is a lot of good that will come out of this bill in the near future.

“Unlike any other state in America, this legislation is intentional about equity,” said Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Democratic majority leader in the Assembly, on the chamber floor. “Equity is not a second thought, it’s the first one, and it needs to be, because the people who paid the price for this war on drugs have lost so much.”

According to New York City data, Black and Latinx New Yorkers made up 94% of NYPD marijuana arrests in 2020. That statistic is especially disheartening considering the most recent NYC health department survey shows that the proportion of white New York City residents who use marijuana is much higher than that of Black and Latinx respondents.

The bill aims for racial equity in multiple ways, but one of the most prominent is in its commitment to automatically expunge or resentence anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be considered legal. The bill also provides the funding to do so.

State officials anticipate that taxes from New York's recreational cannabis program will eventually rake in $350 million annually and create up to 60,000 new jobs. Profits made off cannabis taxes will go toward education, the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, and the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.

"This is a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State's economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits," Cuomo said in a press release that was published on Wednesday. "This was one of my top priorities in this year's State of the State agenda and I'm proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis."

New York follows in the footsteps of 15 other states and DC that have already legalized cannabis for recreational use. Right now, the roster also includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, DC, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. South Dakota voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2020, but the law has not yet gone into effect.

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Kyler Alvord is a news writer at Thrillist. Find him on Twitter and Instagram. Or don't. It's really up to you.