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New York Legislature Votes Yes on Cannabis Legalization, Bill Headed for Governor's Desk

April 1, 2021

New York Legislature Votes Yes on Cannabis Legalization, Bill Headed for Governor's Desk

April 1, 2021

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Driving while impaired from marijuana would remain a misdemeanor, despite early reports that lawmakers had settled on downgrading it to a violation.

Just days after announcing they had reached a deal, New York’s Assembly and Senate passed the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) on March 30. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who proposed his own bill and was heavily involved in the negotiations, said he looks forward to signing the historic legislation.

The following are some highlights from the 128-page bill:

  • Adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase marijuana products from licensed retailers, which are expected to launch sometime in 2022.
  • Effective immediately, there would be no penalties for public possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of marijuana concentrates, and people could store up to 5 pounds of cannabis at home.
  • Adults could also cultivate up to six plants for personal use, three of which could be mature. A maximum of 12 plants could be grown per household with more than one adult. Home growing legality would not take effect until regulators set rules for it, and they would have a maximum of six months to do so for medical patients and must do so for adult-use consumers no later than 18 months after the first retail recreational sales begin.
  • People with convictions for marijuana-related activity made legal under the legislation would have their records automatically expunged.
  • Protections against discrimination in housing, educational access and parental rights would be instituted for people who consume cannabis or work in the marijuana industry.
  • A system of licenses for commercial cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers, cooperatives and nurseries would be created, with a prohibition on vertical integration except for microbusinesses and existing medical cannabis operators.
  • Microbusiness licenses may only engage in more “limited” cultivation, processing and/or dispensing, leaving the regulatory body to determine what “limited” operations means. And while registered organizations may continue being vertically integrated in the medical space, they may only co-locate their medical and adult-use licenses at three of their dispensary locations.
  • Social consumption sites and delivery services would be permitted.
  • Individual jurisdictions would be allowed to opt out of allowing retailers or social consumption sites by the end of this year, but residents could seek to override such bans via a local referendum process.
  • A new Office of Cannabis Management—an independent agency operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority—would be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs and would be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board. Three members would be appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly would appoint one member each.
  • The legislation sets a goal of having 50 percent of marijuana business licenses issued to social equity applicants, defined as people from “communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition” as well as minority- and women-owned businesses, disabled veterans and financially distressed farmers.
  • Cannabis products would be subject to a state tax of 9 percent, plus an additional 4 percent local tax that would be split between counties and cities/towns/villages, with 75 percent of the local earnings going to the municipalities and 25 percent to the counties. Marijuana distributors would also face a THC tax based on type of product, as follows: 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.
  • Tax revenue from marijuana sales would cover the costs of administering the program. After that, 40 percent of the remaining dollars would go to a community reinvestment fund, 40 percent would support the state’s public schools and 20 percent would fund drug treatment facilities and public education programs.
  • Police could not use the odor of cannabis to justify searches.
  • The state Department of Health would oversee a study of technologies for detecting cannabis-impaired driving, after which it could approve and certify the use of such a test. Additional funds for drug recognition experts also would be made available.
  • Driving while impaired from marijuana would remain a misdemeanor, despite early reports that lawmakers had settled on downgrading it to a violation.
  • The state’s existing medical cannabis program would also be changed to expand the list of qualifying conditions and allow patients to smoke marijuana products. Patients could also obtain a 60-day, rather than 30-day, supply.
  • Smokable hemp flower sales would be allowed.
  • Current medical cannabis businesses could participate in the recreational market in exchange for licensing fees that will help to fund the social equity program.

Governor Cuomo said, “After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York state. Legalizing adult-use cannabis isn’t just about creating a new market that will provide jobs and benefit the economy—it’s also about justice for long-marginalized communities and ensuring those who’ve been unfairly penalized in the past will now get a chance to benefit. I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger, sponsor of the legislation, said, “Today is an historic day for New Yorkers. I could not be more proud to cast my vote to end the failed policies of marijuana prohibition in our state, and begin the process of building a fair and inclusive legal market for adult-use cannabis. It has been a long road to get here, but it will be worth the wait. The bill we have held out for will create a nation-leading model for legalization.”

For further details, read our Duane Morris Alerts from January 11, January 22, February 18 and March 26.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Michael D. Schwamm, Deanna J. Lucci, any of the attorneys in the Cannabis Industry Group or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact. 

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.