Marijuana is legal in New York state. Here’s what that means for you.

Marijuana is legal in New York state. Here's what that means for you.

Smoking weed is legal, but New Yorkers won't see retail sales for at least a year.
Published: April 9, 2021
A Syracuse student lights a marijuana cigarette in their apartment.
A Syracuse student smokes marijuana in their apartment.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in New York state, but don’t get too excited. Residents won’t be able to buy or sell marijuana legally for a year or even two. Growing plants at home also won’t be allowed for at least several months.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law on April 30, immediately legalizing cannabis products for adults 21 and older and setting the stage for an industry that could be worth $4.2 billion. The 128-page bill leaves many decisions on regulating the marijuana industry in New York state up to the newly created Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board.

New York is the 15th state, along with Washington, D.C., to legalize marijuana for recreational use. As advocates and experts are making sense of the complicated legislation, here’s what you need to know about marijuana in New York.

Where is weed allowed?

New Yorkers can now legally possess and use up to three ounces of marijuana for recreational use and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis. While up to five pounds of marijuana can be kept at home if secured properly, home cultivation is not currently allowed. It’s legal to smoke marijuana anywhere in public wherever tobacco smoking is allowed but not inside cars, schools or workplaces.

The state’s new Cannabis Control Board, as well as individual municipalities, may create additional restrictions on smoking marijuana.

Syracuse University currently bans the possession, use and distribution of alcohol and illegal drugs on campus. This policy will continue despite New York’s marijuana legalization, said Dean of Students Marianne Thomson in a campus-wide email Monday. University policy also prohibits the possession or use of medical marijuana on campus, she said. The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989 mandates that universities receiving federal funding must have a marijuana use policy, as the drug is still illegal under federal law.

“I hate to say it, but I’m afraid there will still have to be that hiding out in secrecy,” said Dessa Bergen-Cico, an SU professor of drug policy and addiction studies.

Bergen-Cico doesn’t expect legalization to have a significant impact on college students’ behavior given that the legal age is 21 and universities will continue to prohibit drug use.

A 2019-20 survey from The NewsHouse’s High Stakes project found that New York college students overwhelmingly supported legalization. Most students anticipated few negative consequences of legalization on academic performance, mental health or physical health.



NOTE: These survey results from our 2020 High Stakes project reflect students interviewed from November 2019 to January 2020.

Where can I buy it?

New Yorkers may be waiting one to two years until legal marijuana sales happen, said Troy Smit, deputy director of the New York state branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The state will take months to establish regulations before giving out licenses for growers, distributors and retailers.

Eventually, New Yorkers will be able to buy marijuana and other cannabis products from brick-and-mortar dispensaries. The new legislation also allows the creation of lounges and other adult-use consumption sites, but consumption at dispensaries will be limited to those with the on-site license.

While towns and cities across the state can’t opt out of legalizing weed, they have a Dec. 31 deadline to opt out of dispensaries and consumption sites.

How does the legislation relate to racial justice?

Debate between Cuomo and state lawmakers on regulation and tax revenue delayed legalization efforts for years — even as public opinion polling showed a majority of New Yorkers supported legalization. Ultimately, lawmakers prevailed with the new legislation directing 40% of tax revenue from sales to Black and Latino communities impacted by disparate policing in the war on drugs.

The legislation automatically expunges the criminal records of people who were convicted of marijuana-related offenses that are no longer illegal. Lawmakers also set a goal that 50% of cannabis business licenses be reserved for “social equity applicants” — including people from communities impacted by marijuana arrests, women and minority business owners, distressed farmers and veterans with disabilities.

Cuomo’s capitulation to state lawmakers comes as the governor is embattled with allegations of sexual misconduct and misleading the public on nursing home deaths from COVID-19. Because the legislation leaves many regulatory decisions up to a new agency that falls under the governor’s office, Smit said, Cuomo will still have significant influence over the implementation of the state’s marijuana industry.

“The governor did not give up all power. He still has a large amount of control over this program that he will exert in ways yet to be seen,” Smit said. “But by far and large, the legislature was able to plant their flag on a lot of specific tenants of marijuana justice, social equity and consumer rights included in the bill.”

High Stakes

The risks and rewards of legalizing marijuana

As part of an exclusive NewsHouse 2020 reporting project, High Stakes investigates what legalization of marijuana could mean for New York state, its farms, colleges and businesses.