On March 31, New York became the 15th state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. Plenty of model implementations—14 to be precise—are available and, indeed, several are adjacent. New Jersey is still getting it sorted but old Calvinist Massachusetts is fully up and running as the eastern seaboard’s unlikely capital of hooch and rausch. We, however, are New York, the Tom Sawyer of states. The simplest, proven solutions are typically not interesting enough for our brand.
If you are looking for reasons to celebrate New York State and its daring, the New York Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Act (MRTA) is maybe the most progressive and far-reaching legislation of its kind passed to date. It ventures further into issues of social equity and criminal reform than any previous state act, and in so doing sets itself up for some daunting implementation and regulatory challenges. If, on the other hand, you are looking for reasons to grouse about New York State and its labyrinthine bureaucracy, see above.
So what’s legal now?
Basically, pot. New York residents 21 and over can possess up to three ounces of pot on their persons and can store up to five pounds at home. They can give pot—flower, edibles, oils—to others. Some other states have kept the language hazy and cautionary regarding public displays of marijuana use. In New York, the rule is refreshingly simple: you can smoke it wherever you can smoke tobacco. There are two significant differences: marijuana use is flatly prohibited in workplaces and in cars. That said, the odor of marijuana in a car is no longer grounds for searches or citations.
Also, since tobacco use is heavily restricted in New York, cannabis users should familiarize themselves with those laws and the details of the Clean Indoor Air Act before they go flaunting their new freedom.
Would-be growers for personal use can expect frustration via a pretty formidable business-friendly catch. Of course, growing will be legal—up to six plants, or 12 per household with two adults. Card-carrying medical marijuana patients can begin growing six months after the law passed, so very soon. Recreational users will have to wait 18 months after the first recreational dispensaries have opened, time meant to allow “the market to mature,” writes Intelligencer.
What’s so progressive about the New York law?
In most states, cannabis reform is about lifestyle and, of course, profit. Big profit. The criminal and social implications are rather secondary. In New York, they are at the center of the circle. “The MRTA has some of the most far-reaching social equity provisions of any state cannabis law, including both licensing considerations and uses of state funds generated by the program,” said Telisport Putsavage, a lawyer who specializes in environmental who has worked extensively in Albany and who follows MRTA closely.
The MRTA is explicit that the granting of licenses to do cannabis-related business “…shall promote social and economic equity applicants.” Extra priority is to be given to applicants who are members of a community “…disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.” Priority is also to be given to applicants with an income lower than 80 percent of the median income in the county where he/she resides, and, interestingly, to applicants convicted of marijuana related offenses prior to the MRTA’s effective date, essentially offering a pathway to legitimization.
“The challenge,” says Putsavage, “will be in the implementation as the Cannabis Control Board is charged with establishing both the definition of a social and economic equity applicant and a social and economic equity plan, which will surely be the subject of intense public debate.”
What about criminal reform?
Pretty revolutionary, actually, and as straight-forward as can be in language but of course infinitely complex in action. “The MRTA includes extensive forward-looking and remedial decriminalization measures aimed at undoing the damage done by the prior criminal framework,” says Putsavage. “Those previously convicted of cannabis offenses alone will automatically have their convictions erased, while those convicted of other offenses as well can petition to have their sentences reduced. The court system no doubt will be challenged to implement these provisions.”
What licenses are available for those who want in on the action?
A bewildering variety of them. There is the cultivator license, which authorizes you to grow and sell not to distributors but to cannabis processors. Next, thus, is the processor license to sell to distributors. It’s a chain, you see. Then there’s the distributor license; the retail dispensary license; the turnkey microbusiness license that allows the holder to be their own chain entire; the delivery license, which covers cannabis products as well as agricultural products like seeds and immature plants. Finally there’s a related pair of license types: the onsite consumption or “lounge” license, and the cooperative license, which covers suppliers of said lounges.
Do communities have a say?
Yes, within strict limits. “Local governments at the town, village and city level will face multiple choices in determining how to approach the adult-use program,” says Putsavage. “They can simply weigh in on any application for a retail dispensary or on-site consumption license, or they can go further and opt out of allowing such licenses in their jurisdiction.”
Controls through zoning are allowed but cannot make it unreasonable or impractical for a licensee to operate. Towns and villages can opt out of dispensaries and delivery services, but they must make that decision in this calendar year, and prior opt-out enactments are not effective.
Because towns can opt back in later, experts predict that many communities will exercise the opt-out pre-emptively while they wait to see how the still-nascent regulations take shape. But Putsavage notes that “opting out also gives up the local revenue share they would receive from such licensees,” and, as the retail picture plays out, the opportunities for such revenue may no longer be there for the communities that take the wait-and-see approach.
When, when, when?
Chill, dude. No, seriously. For your health. It is going to be a while. There’s an awful lot of politics remaining between you today and you with a recreational dispensary on your block. For example, the required five-member Cannabis Control Commission subagency of the State Liquor Authority hasn’t even been appointed yet, nor has the required 13-member advisory board and its director. Appointing authority for these is divided between the governor and the legislature, and the legislature is currently adjourned. These committees need not only be staffed; they also have to, like, do their jobs.