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5 things to know about legalization of marijuana for adult use in NY

A smoke shop employee holding a small amount

A smoke shop employee holding a small amount of CBD flower in Brooklyn on Feb. 22, 2020. Credit: Marshall Ritzel via AP

ALBANY — New York has become the 15th state to legalize receational marijuana, immediately allowing residents to possess small amounts of cannabis, but legal sales are more than a year away.

The new law covers a lot of ground, far more than just possession and sales. There’s oversight, taxes, licenses, revenue allocation, hemp flower, expunging criminal records, impaired driving and more.

Here’s a look at five things to know about New York’s new law:

Possessing and smoking, right now.

Effective immediately, New Yorkers 21 years and older can possess up to three ounces of marijuana at home or in public.

You can also possess up to 24 grams of cannabis in a concentrated form, such as oil.

You can smoke marijuana anywhere you are allowed to smoke tobacco. Mostly.

Like cigarettes, marijuana smoking is banned in any place covered by the state’s Indoor Clean Air Act, such as restaurants and taverns.

But there are a few more restrictions on marijuana than tobacco.

For instance, you cannot legally smoke weed in your car. You cannot smoke it in a restaurant’s outdoor patio even if it’s designated for cigarette smoking. You can’t smoke it in a cigar bar or tobacco store.

The new possession law also will trigger an automatic expungement process of criminal records. Anyone who was convicted of something now legal — such as holding less than three ounces — will eventually see that record expunged.

Lag for sales, stores and home growth

Legal sales probably won’t begin before about September, 2022, legislators have said. That’s because it will take time for New York to work out the complicated regulatory framework.

Various licenses will be created (cultivator, distributor, retailer, etc.). A new Office of Cannabis Management will have to be established and staffed. Cultivators will need time to, well, cultivate.

Dispensaries will have to be sited and licensed, as well as separate lounge-like "consumption sites" — think of a liquor store versus a bar. Siting would be subject to local approval, officials said.

There’s a lag for home growth as well — probably not allowed before some point in 2024.

The law says you can’t grow marijuana at home until 18 months after the first legal retail sales occur — and that might not happen before fall 2022. That’s to give time for the retail market to establish itself.

Eventually, you will be able to grow up to six plants per person (three mature plants, three immature), with a maximum of 12 per household, at home.

Home growth of medical marijuana is different. It will be allowed once the state adopts regulations for it — which is supposed to be no more than six months from now.

Community opt-out

Localities could not prohibit residents from consuming or growing marijuana. But they could block or regulate retail sales and delivery, as well as consumption sites.

But if they do so, they cannot share any of the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales.

Already, a handful of Long Island village mayors have said they will opt out of local sales. A municipality must opt out by Dec. 31.

Impaired driving still a crime

This issue was one of the last to be resolved before lawmakers approved the legislation. In the end, impaired driving will remain a misdemeanor — some legislators had wanted it to become a violation, a non-criminal offense.

Further, the state approved a study of emerging technologies for detecting cannabis-impaired driving to be submitted to the governor, the State Senate and Assembly by Dec. 31, 2022. If such devices are found to be accurate, the state could issue regulations to approve and certify a test that could be deployed by local law enforcement.

Equity issue was key

For more than two years, the major holdup on marijuana legislation was the divvying up of projected revenue and licenses. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo initially wanted most of the revenue to go to the state’s general fund. Legislators wanted money to be specifically earmarked for certain uses, especially to help minority communities hit hardest by unequal enforcement of marijuana laws over the years.

In the end, lawmakers got their way. Forty percent of the tax profits from marijuana will be allocated to community grants. Another 40% will go to education. Twenty percent will go to addiction treatment services.

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