Is Weed Legal in New York?

Is recreational marijuana legal in New York? Is Medicinal marijuana legal in New York? What about CBD? Find out in this article.

Home to over 8 million residents and over 800 languages, New York is one of the most renowned and diverse places on the planet, and has served as the birthplace for many celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, 50 Cent, Madonna, and even the current U.S. President Donald Trump.

Then there's the iconic architecture of New York like the Empire State building, Rockefeller Plaza, and of course, the Statue of Liberty.

Needless to say, New York is a highly popular tourist destination, but you may be wondering at this point: can you smoke weed there?

BREAKING: New York Set To Expunge Historical Cannabis Convictions

Understandably, it can be difficult to keep up with cannabis legalization, with states and countries across the globe changing their stance constantly. Whether it be Australia's Capital Territory legalizing the plant, Hawaii decriminalizing it, or Illinois flat-out legalizing weed, there's undoubtedly a lot going on when it comes to weed laws.

Well, don't worry, we've got you covered. Here's all you need to know about New York's weed laws.

Is Recreational Cannabis Legal in New York?

Recreational cannabis use isn't legal in New York, unfortunately for the cannabis consumers out there. Though New York has had a colourful history with cannabis, to say the least.

Cannabis was made somewhat illegal in 1914 in New York, when the State began requiring that citizens have a prescription for the plant, which was then increased to all-out prohibition in 1927 when sale and possession of cannabis became illegal from that point forward.

Interestingly, despite these increased laws surrounding pot, cannabis used to grow all throughout the five boroughs of New York, with reports of 10-foot-tall hemp and marijuana plants peppered throughout the State up until the 1950s. It's estimated that roughly 19,000 kg of marijuana were popping up throughout the boroughs, until the Sanitation Department General Inspector John E. Gleason, was given the task of ridding New York of its pot plants. Rumour has it that the Sanitation Department claimed to eliminate $6 million worth of weed over this period.

New York's weed laws would remain largely unchanged until the 1970s with the introduction of the War on Drugs. Then, in 1973, the state would once again crackdown on cannabis, when the governor at the time, Nelson Rockefeller, would increase the penalty for cannabis possession to a minimum of 15 years in prison for those caught with two ounces of weed and up.

New York Decriminalizes Cannabis

New York's strict stance on cannabis lasted less than half a decade, with the state deciding to decriminalize cannabis possession of anything under 26 grams in 2019. If you are caught carrying within this weight range, you will receive a $100 fine.

Moreover, in September of this year, New York moved to destroy all prior cannabis records, opening up job opportunities for those who had previously been convicted of a cannabis-related crime.

This expungement of records was coupled with the implementation of Local Law 91, which eliminates pre-employment drug testing for cannabis use in most professions. This means that cannabis tests would only be required for jobs that require the use of heavy machinery and a few other exceptions such as police officers and those working with children.

Is weed legal in New York

Can You Consume Cannabis In Public in New York?

Though cannabis laws are becoming more relaxed in New York, consumption of marijuana in public view (MPV) remains illegal and has since become another major issue for the state.

According to the research paper 'An Analysis of Alternatives to New York City's Current Marijuana Arrest and Detention Policy' in the 1990s:

"The number of NYPD arrests for smoking marijuana in public view (MPV) increased from 3,000 in 1994 to over 50,000 in 2000, and have been about 30,000 in the mid 2000s."

Many have argued that the MPV laws disproportionately affected minority groups, and in response, the 2014 Mayor of the State Bill de Blasio directed the NYPD to cease arrests and instead issue tickets to those caught publicly using cannabis.

Will Recreational Weed Be Made Legal in New York?

While cannabis has only been recently decriminalized in New York, the State has certainly given cannabis legalization some consideration on numerous occasions, suggesting that legalization isn't too far off the horizon.

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated for several years now that he believes recreational weed should be made legal in New York, referencing the potential tax revenue that can be earned from legalizing the plant. Not only that, but Cuomo vowed to make marijuana legal in New York within the first 100 days of 2019 – which evidently didn't come to fruition.

Andrew Cuomo Weed New York
New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo

Then, once COVID-19 hit the United States, Governor Cuomo included legalization in the accelerated budget proposal, stating that if legalization is to happen, it must be done through the budget.

Finally, most recently, Cuomo stated last month in a radio interview that the State is "ripe [for legalization] because [New York] is going to be desperate for funding, even with Biden, even with the stimulus, even with everything else, we're still gonna need funding and it's also the right policy, so I think we get this done."

The Governor continued, alluding to the recent successes of New Jersey and again highlighting the economic benefits of cannabis legalization, stating that "New Jersey did it on the ballot, which in retrospect I think was probably the faster way. I think the pressure is gonna be on because we're going to need the money so badly and you have such a gap now, I think it's gonna be an easier conversation."

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in New York?

While New York may be lagging behind on the recreational front, the five-borough state is among the 33 states which have legalized medicinal marijuana for qualifying conditions.

In 2016, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, medical marijuana was made legal upon prescription, for those suffering from chronic pain, seizures, HIV, nausea, Parkinsons, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, PTSD and several other symptoms. Though smoking in public remains illegal even for medicinal purposes, so most patients will opt for alternative form factors that aren't smokeable like tinctures or capsules.

You can use legally acquired vaporizers, though the State urges individuals to hold off from using vapes until the vaping crisis subsides and legislators gain a better understanding of the situation. Though it should be noted that there have been no reports of unexpected negative events associated with approved products in New York's Medical Marijuana Program related to the crisis began.

New Yorkers who wish to use medical marijuana need to obtain medical records which confirm they have one or more of the aforementioned conditions, before seeing a practitioner who is registered to the States medical marijuana program who may then issue that citizen with a medical marijuana card. The card itself costs roughly $50, though as medicinal marijuana isn't covered by insurance in New York, prepare to pay a pretty penny for pot in the State. Some have pointed out that medical prices for cannabis in New York exceed black market prices, and may encourage a continuation of the black market.

Is Cannabis Legal in New York

Is CBD Legal in New York?

CBD, or Cannabidiol, is the cannabis compound that's taken the world by storm. (Don't you know this by now?) The compound is said to cure everything from anxiety to epilepsy, without the associated "highness" that THC gives.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is federally legal across the United States and therefore is legal too in New York. This means if you want to consume cannabidiol in New York, you can do so, with a pretty major caveat; CBD is illegal when its put into food and beverages in the State.

While this may seem arbitrary to some, there is method to New York's CBD madness, which can be boiled down to the hype surrounding CBD. Once the Farm Bill was passed, CBD began to embed itself into every nook and cranny imaginable, from cookies and gummies, to cocktails and coffees.

Coinciding with this ubiquity of CBD was a tidal wave of grandiose claims surrounding the compound; that CBD could help cure cancer, decrease depression, eliminate insomnia or any other number of claims which simply weren't supported by empirical data. Given the newness of CBD and the industry at large, the necessary studies hadn't yet been performed to give these claims legitimacy, particularly when it came to small business owners who didn't have many regulations on their CBD products.

For this reason, in July last year, the FTC and FDA had to send warnings to the businesses responsible, issuing the following statement:

"I believe these are egregious, over-the-line claims and we won't tolerate this kind of deceptive marketing to vulnerable patients," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

"The FDA continues to be concerned about the proliferation of egregious medical claims being made about products asserting to contain CBD that haven't been approved by the FDA, such as the products and companies receiving warning letters today."

And so, from that moment forward, CBD was banned in food and beverages throughout New York. If you want to consume the cannabinoid compound, a tincture may be your best bet.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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