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 fast-tracked the legalization of recreational cannabis. Last March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) which legalizes recreational marijuana in his state. The legislation allows adult New Yorkers aged 21 and older to legally possess up to 3 ounces of weed and/or up to 24 grams of concentrates, and cultivate up to 6 plants per person or 12 per household. The new law also established procedures for the automatic review and expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.
The state, which is poised to become one of the biggest marijuana industries in the country, is expected to reinvest millions in taxes into minority communities severely impacted by the decades-long war on drugs.
There are also as many as 8 medical marijuana bills already lined up for this year’s session.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of New York Marijuana Laws
New York has had a medical marijuana program since 2014 after the approval of the Compassionate Care Act but only recently did it legalize personal possession, sale, and home cultivation of adult-use cannabis.
- Possession – Simple possession of up to 3 ounces is now allowed in New York. However, more than 3 up to 8 is already a misdemeanor and penalties go up as the amount of marijuana possessed increases.
- 3 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 – In 2022, New Yorkers will be allowed to grow at home up to six marijuana plants per person, with only 3 mature at a given time, and/or up to 12 plants per household. Anything exceeding this limit is considered a Class A misdemeanor or greater, depending on the amount 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
Yes, adult-use cannabis is now legal in New York. Possession of less than 3 ounces and grow up to 6 plants for himself without being penalized.
Adults in New York aged 21 and older are allowed to grow as many as 6 plants (maximum of 3 mature) for themselves and up to 12 plants per household.
Yes, New York has a medical marijuana program that allows patients and caregivers to legally possess cannabis.
Patients and their caregivers are allowed to grow as many as 6 plants (maximum of 3 mature) for themselves and up to 12 plants per household.
Residents in New York are allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home away from public view.
Adults need to be aged 21 or older to grow marijuana in New York.
It was somewhat surprising that a provision to grow at home got included in New York’s newly approved law since the intention behind the move to legalize was largely to increase tax revenue to help with the deficit caused by the COVID pandemic. Then again, it will still be in 2022 that the home growing law will take effect, Nevertheless, New York’s legalization of recreational weed is sure to make a big impact on the issue of federal legalization which is likely to be decided on within the year.