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Unpacking the New York Cannabis Reform Bill

In 1996, California became the first state in the US to medical marijuana. Numerous others have followed suit since the landmark legislation from The Golden State. Even historically deep-red states South Dakota and Alabama are reforming their cannabis laws. The tides are shifting, and now the largest market in the US has opened up cannabis use for adults. The New York cannabis reform bill is by far the most progressive legalization plan to date. We will go through what’s in the bill and how lawmakers learned from states like California are decades into their legal cannabis programs.

Office of Cannabis Management

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) on March 31, 2021, making New York the 17th state, including Washington DC and Gaum, to fully legalize cannabis for adults. A new government agency called the Office of Cannabis Management was created as an extension of the New York State Liquor Authority to regulate recreation, medical, and cannabinoid hemp.

Medical Marijuana

New York residents now have a larger range of medical conditions that could grant them a medical cannabis card. Home cultivation is also allowed for medical cannabis patients, and the number of caregivers allowed per patient was expanded.

Recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana or ‘adult-use cannabis’ grants separate licenses to businesses wanting to grow or produce cannabis products and sell them at a retail location. The significant difference in the plan is giving economic opportunities to people who were most affected by cannabis prohibition or underrepresented in other states. New York is creating a social equity program with a goal of 50% of licenses going to ‘minority or woman-owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry.’

Under the new legislation, NY residents can legally possess and transport up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrates.

Licenses will be given to businesses operating cannabis consumption sites. The space would be free from alcoholic beverages but operate like lounges or clubs where patrons can consume cannabis indoors. One of the shortcomings in other states was not giving cannabis users legal places to use the newly legal products outside their homes, limiting cannabis tourism, and pushing consumption into public spaces.

Cannabinoid Hemp

The new legislation grants retailers selling CBD and other cannabinoid products, other than THC, the freedom to sell flower. NY legislators also took a stance on the latest cannabinoid to gain mainstream attention, Delta-8 THC, by banning the products altogether.

Revenue Generated from New York Cannabis Reform Bill

The new bill would tax cannabis products based on milligrams rather than weight, another change from the California model. The 13% tax will on all adult-use cannabis products are invested back into the community as follows:

  • 40% on education
  • 40% to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund
  • 20% to drug treatment and public education

Criminal Justice Reform

After decades of cannabis legalization in states like California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, we’ve witnessed some incredible results as well as various shortcomings. The most prominent being the licensing system. The cannabis industry disproportionately favors white men and excludes anyone with a criminal record.

New York is opening up their licensing programs to people who have committed non-violent offenses and focusing on excluding people with a history of financial crimes.

The aspect of the bill we are most excited about is the expungement or resentencing for previous marijuana-related offenses. People incarcerated because of cannabis will get their sentence reduced or thrown out, and people’s cannabis charges on their record will be wiped clean.

The New York Cannabis Reform Bill – A Federal Model to Follow

New York has taken this opportunity to boost the economy and correct past mistakes all in one progressive piece of legislation. If the US federally legalizes cannabis in the future, you can expect to see aspects of the New York cannabis reform bill in the legislation.