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Audio Feature: New York legalized marijuana, what are the rules?

Apr 05, 2021 11:00 am

It might be news to many local officials, but New York legalized marijuana last week. Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chair and Stockport Town Supervisor Matt Murell said he had not yet read about the new law. Cairo Town Supervisor John Coyne said, “We haven’t gotten anything official from the state. We will address it when that information comes to us.” Stuyvesant Town Supervisor Ronald Knott said, “The devil is always in the details and now we need to read the details.”

There are sixteen states where marijuana is legal, plus the District of Columbia, now that the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act passed in New York. The Times Union reports that the law, "is largely mirrored after Colorado's system that has enabled small business owners to establish a network of boutique shops and dispensaries that sell everything from small amounts of cannabis to pain creams and edibles."

The law immediately made smoking marijuana in New York State legal for those 21 and older, but only in places were smoking tobacco is also allowed. Ingesting edibles is now also legal. Possession of up to three ounces of cannabis is allowed as of March 31, or 24 grams of concentrated forms of the drug, such as oils. Three ounces of marijuana is anywhere between 100 and 250 joints, depending on the size. In Massachusetts, where cannabis has been legal for several years, retailers can only sell up to an ounce, or five grams of concentrate. In New York, smoking is not allowed in schools, workplaces, bars and restaurants, or in cars. But, no marijuana is available for sale here yet, and won't be for 18 months or two years while the state sets up a regulatory structure. The first step in that process came April 2, when New York launched a website with all sorts of details for local officials, at cannabis.ny.gov. "We modeled it originally on the SLA (state Liquor Authority) and how we do operate liquor stores and bars, and then we kept taking a look at Colorado and go 'OK,' we see where they’re making the mistakes and they’re fixing it," said state Sen. Liz Krueger.

So while New Yorkers can now smoke marijuana legally, there is not yet any way they can purchase it. Buying it in Massachusetts, or another state where it is allowed, is still not a legal option, as transporting marijuana across state lines violates federal laws.

Towns, cities, and villages will may opt-out of allowing licensed adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries within their limits, and pass local laws and regulations governing the time, place and manner of the operation of the stores and on-site consumption sites. So, expect lots of talk about this issue in every town, city, and village, with votes by the end of the year. The Daily Mail and the Register-Star talked to many local leaders, who are all not saying yet if they favor a store in their jurisdiction. Hudson and Catskill, with the largest local populations, would seem like logical locations. “I think Hudson is a pretty progressive city, so I think they’ll be more welcome than not, But I just need to know more about what policy is going to be behind them and how, if they do come to the city, how they can benefit the population,” Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson said. Catskill Town Supervisor Dale Finch said he would hold community forums. “If one community doesn’t sell it, they’re going to be able to get marijuana at a neighboring community,” he said. “People who want to use it are going to use it. We need to figure out what’s the pulse of the town of Catskill.” Hunter town officials discussed the issue last year as it was being proposed, but did not come to any decisions. Supervisors in Windham, Athens, Coxsackie, Greenport, Philmont, Kinderhook, Ancram, and Chatham were also surveyed in the story, but would not commit to any position on the issue. “For the town of Gallatin which I represent we don’t have any commercial or retail outlets,” Gallatin Town Supervisor John Reilly said. “So this would be kind of a moot point for us. We’re a town without a town.” Local governments may enact stricter rules on marijuana use, prohibit retail dispensaries, or cannabis lounges, and impose small civil penalties but are not allowed to “completely or essentially prohibit a person” from lawful marijuana use.

Homeowners will be allowed to grow up to six plants per adult, up to 12 plants per household, though not until 18 months after retail shops have opened. Medical marijuana cardholders can begin growing their own plants in October. Greene County Legislature chair Patrick Linger has not been concerned about new businesses using lots of electricity in his county before, but is now, even though police reports indicate many residents in his county have had indoor grow rooms already. “If you are growing, you are using hydroponic lamps and things like that, and I think that could cause a problem. New York City is screaming for power and that’s why we are getting all these renewable energy projects upstate, and it’s all getting piped downstate. If something like this takes off and people grow it in their own homes, it’s going to take a fair amount of power and I don’t think it helps the power problem.”

The legislation includes a nine percent statewide sales tax, an additional four percent county and local tax, and another tax based on the level of THC, to about 20 percent total. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, predicts annual tax revenues could eventually total $300 million, but Republicans are skeptical. A Cannabis Control Board, which will be in charge of writing the new regulations, and an Office of Cannabis Management, which will be in charge of implementing those rules, will be set up. The Office of Cannabis Management will distribute the licenses, and act similar to the State Liquor Authority. The state will provide loans, grants, and incubator programs for minority owners of the stores, as well as small farmers, women, and disabled veterans.

Anyone previously convicted of an illegal act related to cannabis that the bill legalizes, will have their record automatically expunged. And police will no longer be allowed to search citizens because of the smell of marijuana.