April 22, 2024


Built General Tough

Legal marijuana in NY: What you need to know about possession, growing, business opportunities

This week, marijuana became legal in New York state.

“This is a historic day,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted shortly after signing the legalization bill into law on Wednesday.

But is it an instant game-changer?

It may depend on who you are, and what your particular interest in marijuana is.

This part is instant: Possession (and use) of up to three ounces by anyone 21 and over became legal immediately on Wednesday.

Almost every other aspect of the 128-page, 7,000-line law will need time to take effect. Some may take months, like the expansion of the existing medical marijuana program. Others, like legal retail sales for recreational use, may take more than a year, or even two. Eventually, there will be things like home delivery and public spaces called “social consumption” sites.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,” said Gary Colmey of Rome, an administrator for a Facebook group called Legalize It! CNY. “Is it perfect? No. Is about time we got here? Yes!”

Here’s a look at some of the key pieces of the law, officially called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act:

Effective immediately: Possessing a small amount is not a crime

As soon as the ink was dry on Cuomo’s signature, adults could possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana (or 24 grams of marijuana concentrate) without fear of arrest or prosecution.

Depending on how much you roll, that’s about 50 joints. You can also store up to five pounds at home.

And you can consume (smoke) it anywhere it is legal to smoke tobacco.

“For New York, this is where we start to look to the future of marijuana,” said Karl Sleight, an attorney specializing in cannabis law for the Harris Beach firm, which has offices statewide. “This, as the first step, is bringing adult use out into the open.”

But remember, it remains a crime to possess large amounts (very large amounts are still felonies). And you can’t go around dealing it on the street (even low level street sales can result in a violation under the new law).

Still ahead: Growing your own

In previous attempts to legalize marijuana, Cuomo had opposed allowing New Yorkers to grow their own unless they qualified for medical use. That changed this year.

Under the new law, adults can cultivate up to six plants, (three mature and three immature), or 12 (six and six) for a household with more than one adult.

But it won’t happen, legally at least, for a while. The state still must write specific regulations for home-growing. Legal home cultivation could begin within six months after those rules take effect for medical users and up to 18 months for recreational users.

For legal marijuana advocates, like Gary Colmey of Rome, home-growing is the key.

“I don’t need or even want to go out into the retail market,” said Colmey, who runs a shop selling indoor-gardening/gowing equipment (and CBD) in Rome. “Growing my own, especially since we’re talking about a legal product now, should be my right.”

Waiting for it: When and where can you buy it?

Yes, you can possess small amounts of marijuana. But where are you going to get it?

That is a conundrum.

Home-growing (see above) may not be a legal option for months or even a year. And as long as marijuana is considered an illegal drug under federal law, you can’t (legally) bring it in from another state.

The bad news for recreational users is that you won’t be able to buy it from a legal (licensed) retailer for up to a year or more, either.

It will take at least a year for the state to set up the new mechanism for regulating marijuana (see below), write the rules, seek retail vendors and issue licenses, according to experts.

Once all that is done, there could be as many as 1,000 retail outlets across the state where you can buy your legal weed. The law also provides for eventual home delivery and lounges where people could gather to use marijuana.

“It might get expedited, but nobody can do anything for months while it’s being set up,” said Aleese Burgio, a cannabis team leader at the Barclay Damon law firm. “A legal retail market is certainly not going to happen right away.”

All that means you can possess it now, but at this point you have no legal way of obtaining it.

Opting out: Retail sales might not be allowed everywhere

The new law covering possession and use applies statewide. But cities, towns and villages will be able to “opt out” of allowing retail outlets and the new “social consumption” sites.

Communities will have until the end of 2021 to choose to opt out, but residents may be able to overturn those decisions through a referendum.

It could create a checkerboard across the state, where marijuana sales may be legal in one town and illegal in the next town over. (That is also the case in some of the states that already have legal marijuana).

Setting the rules: The Office of Cannabis Management

As noted above, the big delay in rolling out legal marijuana as a business is the need to create the specific rules governing it. And that requires the creation of a whole new bureaucratic agency.

The new law establishes the Office of Cannabis Management, which will operate as a division of the New York State Liquor Authority. It will regulate the recreational cannabis market, and take charge of the existing medical marijuana and hemp / CBD industries.

It will have its own board, appointed by the governor and the Legislature. Then it will need to hire staff, write the marijuana rules, issue licenses etc.

“They’re starting up something new, and that will take time,” said Sleight of the Harris Beach firm.

Taxes: Yes, there are taxes

Once marijuana sales are legal, of course, they can be taxed. And in New York, they will.

At the local retail level, there will be a 9% state tax, plus a 4% local tax that would go to counties, cities, towns etc. In addition marijuana distributors be taxed 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

Cynics might say this is the real reason state lawmakers and the governor wanted to legalize marijuana. State officials project tax revenues of $350 million once the market is fully operating.

‘Social equity’ and the law

Many of the lawmakers who pushed for legal marijuana, along with Cuomo, say their major motivation is to reverse and even make up for what they argue has been the unjust way that criminalizing weed has affected minority communities. The new law addresses that in several ways:

· The state will set a goal of awarding 50% of the new business licenses in the cannabis industry to “social equity” applicants, which the law defines as those from “communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.” In addition to minority- and women-owned businesses, it will also include disabled veterans and financially distressed farmers.

· Once taxes are collected, 40% of those revenues will be invested into the communities most affected by past drug enforcement. That includes a a community reinvestment fund, public schools, drug treatment facilities and public education programs.

· Past convictions for marijuana-related crimes that are now legal under the new law will be “expunged” from the records. There will also be protections against discrimination in housing, education, and parental rights for those who use marijuana or work in the industry.

“Unlike any other state in America, this legislation is intentional about equity,” State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo said during the debate on the marijuana bill. “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.”

Law enforcement issues

The new law creates new scenarios for police. One of the major changes in the law is that it prohibits officers from using the smell of marijuana to justify a search of suspects.

“The smell provision is huge,” said Burgio of the Barclay Damon law firm. “This really impacts the long practice of ‘stop and frisk’ that has been controversial for years.”

Another concern that lawmakers wrestled with during debate over the bill is how to deal with impaired drivers. In the end, they kept driving while under the influence of marijuana as a misdemeanor, rather than lowering it to a violation.

But law enforcement officials have said they are worried about how officers will be able to enforce it. Unlike alcohol, there is no equivalent to a breathalyzer for marijuana.

The new law provides money to train police in drug recognition, and there will be state-led efforts to develop technology for detecting marijuana-impaired driving.

The business of cannabis

Legal recreational marijuana, along with the expansion of the existing medical marijuana program and the hemp / cannabis / CBD industry, will be big business in New York state, advocates say.

Some estimates put its value at up to $4 billion a year, with a potential to support 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

Some of that activity is going to be especially good for Upstate New York business. Farms that grow cannabis, along with many of the new processing facilities, are and will continue to be located Upstate.

Certain other provisions will help spur the local economy, said Kaelan Castetter, a partner in Empire Standard, a Binghamton-based hemp grower and processor.

The new law, for example, will allow for cannabis “microbusinesses,” which will be able to grow and produce marijuana and allow consumption onsite, similar to farm breweries and wineries with their tasting rooms.

“That would be huge for tourism Upstate,” Castetter said.

Currently, New York is home to about 700 cannabis growers. Aside from the licensed medical providers, the others grow industrial hemp, a relative of marijuana that does not have the same level of THC, which provides the marijuana “high.” There are about 100 processors who can turn that hemp into products like CBD (cannabidiol).

Marijuana legalization gives those businesses, and more to come, a chance to cash in on an even bigger industry, Castetter said.

“Prices are going to be high and demand is going to be insatiable,” he said. “We’re ready to go and we could all be making money by 2022, if not before.”

Don Cazentre writes for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at [email protected], or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook.