The COVID outbreak has definitely turned things on its head and this includes the cannabis sector. It may have dealt a blow to a lot of business but when one door closes, another one opens. With the nation grappling with the economic impact of the coronavirus, the government is trying to tap into any revenue stream that it can and for some states, this is the marijuana industry.
In New York, the COVID situation seems to have fast-tracked the legalization of recreational cannabis. It has been reported that a coalition of county officials recently agreed that adult-use legalization would help offset the losses caused by the pandemic. Specifically, the county leaders are asking that local sales tax be applied to marijuana transactions and cultivation tax be shared with the county where the product is grown.
Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo already committed to legalization and even took the lead in a coordinated approach to legalization by states in the region. Cuomo pointed out that the marijuana laws of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts should not compete with each other.
Based on this, we can expect that the adult-use laws of these states will all be very similar. Given the situation, it’s very likely for legislation to get passed and even take effect within the next two years. However, since revenue is one of the primary motivations for legalization, home cultivation would probably not be included as it can be difficult to derive taxes from.
Overview of New York Marijuana Laws
New York has had a medical marijuana program since 2014 after the approval of the Compassionate Care Act. However, recreational marijuana and home cultivation of any kind are still illegal in the state.
- Possession – Simple possession of up to 2 ounces is a violation that doesn’t get jail time. Anything more than this becomes a misdemeanor and penalties go up as the amount of marijuana possessed increases.
- 28 grams or less – a maximum fine of $50
- More than 28 g to 2 oz – a maximum fine of $200
- More than 2 to 8 oz – a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $1000.
- More than 8 oz to 1 lb – a Class E felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison and a maximum fine of $ 5000.
- More than 1 to 10 lbs – a Class D felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a maximum fine of $ 5000
- More than 10 lbs – a Class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $ 15,000.
- Sale – While the exchange of less than 2 grams of marijuana or a joint is a misdemeanor, selling is an automatic felony.
- Selling 25 grams or less is a Class A misdemeanor.
- 25 g to 4 oz or using a minor to sell – Class E felony
- 4 oz to 16 oz or selling any amount to a minor – Class D felony
- Over 16 oz – Class C felony
- Cultivation – The penalties for growing marijuana in New York is based on how much the grower possessed. The minimum punishment is up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $1000.
History of Marijuana in New York
During the last few years, marijuana was put on a clear path to legalization in New York under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. However, it had a bumpy ride up to this point. Even though the government completely banned weed in the 1930s, it never really went away and instead just went underground. From that time, marijuana literally persisted like a weed. Not only was it being grown illegally in farms but it also grew wild in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Of course, the government did not let this slide and destroyed tens of thousands of pounds of cannabis in 1951.
But even during that time, the voice of reason tried to break through the federal government’s anti-marijuana propaganda. Around 1939, a committee tasked by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia concluded that the theory of marijuana being a gateway drug was largely false and that it was actually not widely associated with addiction or juvenile delinquency.
The support of New Yorkers for pot only grew through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with one of the first pro-marijuana marches taking in 1965 outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village in 1965. It was spearheaded by poet and writer Allen Ginsberg. However, the city’s stance on marijuana continued to flip flop depending on its leadership. In 1973, the penalties for selling 2 ounces or more were increased under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of 25 to life. But in 1977, possession of 25 grams or less got decriminalized with a penalty of only a fine of $100 which led to a decline in marijuana arrests.
Arrests began to increase once more during the 90s with a disproportionate 80 percent of those arrested being black and Latino. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio instructed the NYPD to issue tickets for simple possession cases instead. Although the move helped bring down arrest numbers for a short while, the problem somehow persisted. This may have prompted the enactment of legislation expanding the decriminalization of adult-use marijuana around 2019.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of New York
How do New York marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in New York
No, adult-use cannabis is currently illegal in New York but simple possession has already been decriminalized.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in New York.
Yes, New York has a medical marijuana program that allows patients and caregivers to legally possess cannabis.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is still not allowed in New York.
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Efforts for passing a legislation are expected to resume next year.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in New York.
Only adult workers employed by a licensed marijuana production entity may legally grow medical cannabis in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a strong commitment to making the legalization of recreational marijuana happen despite the disruption caused by the COVID outbreak. Since most states are scrambling to recoup funds lost due to the pandemic, it’s likely that New York’s legalization efforts could get expedited even if it carries over to 2021. However, since the focus is on creating a regulated marijuana industry that can generate revenue for the state, a home cultivation provision may not make it into the bill. Nevertheless, the important thing is to get recreational use legalized so that the law can be amended in the future to include home growing.