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Your guide to legal weed in NYC: what marijuana legalization actually means

Recreational weed use is now legal in New York and here is everything you need to know about it.

Anna Rahmanan
Contributor: Shaye Weaver
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New York is a green city.

Back in March of 2021, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation into law that effectively legalized marijuana in the state. It was a long time coming: lawmakers had been trying to pass the guidelines since back in 2018 but conversations would stall on the topic of tax revenue from sales. Finally, in 2021, the stage budget proposal included the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (more on that later). 

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Fast-forward nearly two years and the legalization of recreational cannabis began to actually take effect and all previous marijuana-related criminal records in the state of New York were given the current legality of the substance.

New York State legalized the sale of cannabis for adult recreational use in 2022. That year, thousands of New Yorkers applied for their Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) license and (at the time of publication) over 40 of them went on to open licensed dispensaries, including 16 of them right here in New York City in 2023.

There are a lot of questions to be answered: Can weed also be grown at home? Where can New Yorkers buy the stuff and will they be stopped if carrying it around? Can anyone sell marijuana now?

Below, check out our extensive guide to marijuana legalization in New York state.

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What’s legal right now in New York?

To put it simply, in New York state, folks who are 21 years of age or older are now legally allowed to buy, sell, consume and grow cannabis for recreational purposes in different forms—within limits.

What does legalization mean for the general public? 

There are numerous repercussions to legalization, from its effects on the criminal system (less people will now have a record) to the knowledge surrounding what’s in an actual product and, of course, the farming industry.

“The net effect is that [weed consumption] will be a safer, more predictable experience for everybody,” says Paul Botto, co-founder and president of Lucid Green, a software company that will help dispensaries keep track of product-related information. “I also think it’s going to bring an influx of jobs and revenue to all New York towns. When Colorado legalized weed, the state had a surplus of tax revenue for the first time in decades. When you bring in that kind of money, you can do things that you’ve always wanted to do in education and infrastructure.

The expert also notes that local farmers in particular will rejoice at the fact that they’ll now have another source of income. “Cannabis is a hearty plant,” he says. “For a farmer who is struggling to grow one thing or another, this will give them another option [...] that will be more lucrative.”

Where can I smoke marijuana legally in New York?

According to the City of New York, "adults may smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed under the smoke-free air law." Workplaces and public spaces are therefore off limits, as are restaurants and bars.

Unlike tobacco smoking, though, the use of recreational weed is also not allowed inside motor vehicles (even parked ones) or in outdoor dining areas at restaurants.

Once legal sales begin, many cities and towns opt to set up on-site consumption areas where people will be able to use cannabis. It’s likely specific permits will be needed to create these areas.

Can you smoke on the street in New York?

Yes, anywhere you can smoke a cigarette, you can smoke marijuana.

How much weed am I allowed to carry?

Overall, New Yorkers who are younger than 21 years of age are not allowed to possess, sell or use any amount of cannabis. Those above the age limit are allowed to carry up to three ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis at any given moment.

Where can I legally buy marijuana in New York?

Although recreational pot shops can now officially open in New York, the state has yet to distribute all licenses. Just last month, the New York State Cannabis Control Board announced the approval of a total of 36 permissions. The first dispensaries, the only legal selling points, are expected to launch by the beginning of 2023.

Can I go to a dispensary without a card in New York?

To legally buy medical marijuana in New York right now, you need a medical card. That will not be the case with recreational cannabis: as long as you’re above 21 years of age, you’ll be able to buy it from a dispensary.

Are edibles legal?

Yes, edibles are legal in New York as per the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

 

How can I tell if a dispensary is a legally operating one?

According to the city, "all legal dispensaries will be issued a Dispensary Verification Tool that will be posted in the windows of legally licensed retail dispensaries and available for consumers to see when purchasing via delivery as well." You can see a mockup of the tool, which is basically a QR code, right here.

To put it simply: if you see a QR code by the front door, the dispensary is likely a legal one. 

All the similar destinations you might notice around the state at the moment are actually not operating legally. “We fully intend to shut them all down over the next six months,” says Damian Fagon, the chief equity officer at the Office of Cannabis Management. “It will be done with a legislative fix in Albany.”

In total, the state announced that 150 Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) licenses will be distributed this year (considering that the Office of Cannabis Management received over 900 applications this time around, that number doesn't seem like a lot), 36 of which have already been granted.

How can I find a legal dispensary in New York?

You can look them up on cannabis.ny.gov, where there’s a full list of verified licensed dispensaries.

What should I look for in a product?

Given the fact that cannabis is now a controlled substance, you can expect the product to be highly scrutinized by a variety of parties before it reaches you.

“You want a product that has been properly tested by a brand that you know is authentic,” says Botto. “But there are a lot of counterfeit products out there.”

Botto hopes that guidelines will require sellers to provide a Certificate of Analysis (COA) alongside each product, showing test results, making sure that all correct processes were abided by and, perhaps, even noting where the product came from.

"The more information provided, the better,” says the expert. “That way, the consumer can dial in on their experience. It’s imperative for consumers to hold brands accountable to deliver the information they need to have those experiences. The obvious stuff is that it has to be tested properly and packaged correctly. That’s the beauty of buying legal: [brands] have to meet a bar that illicit sellers don’t have to consider.” 

How can I tell if a product is legal?

Governor Kathy Hochul just announced that all regulated and tested marijuana products will feature a universal symbol that will help distinguish them from illicit items. 

“As stores continue to open in the first quarter of 2023, the state will also be releasing a public education campaign called ‘Why Buy Legal New York,’ which will explain the benefits of purchasing legal adult-use cannabis for cannabis consumers in New York State,” the governor explained in a statement. “The campaign will discuss the risks of buying untested illicit products, and how those products undermine the goals of New York’s cannabis law to build the most equitable and inclusive cannabis market in the nation.”

All products must have a QR code on them with a certificate of analysis, according to Fagon. 

"It's all tracked from seed to sale. It's something intended to protect the consumer so they don't end up in the unregulated industry. All states do it. We want to give New Yorkers the option to buy clean, tested product from right here in New York. By buying legal product, you're reinvesting in the community and supporting local farms and businesses."

Who can legally sell cannabis in New York right now?

No person under the age of 21 is allowed to sell weed in New York. Folks above the age limit are only allowed to sell the products if possessing a license by New York State. 

How do you open a dispensary in New York?

The first step to opening a recreational cannabis dispensary in New York is to obtain a CUARD (fee: $2,000). To apply, you must either meet the qualifying business or nonprofit criteria. You can call 888-727-4692 to check on whether you even qualify for an application.

"In most other states, they created criteria looking for operators who are, in their opinion, the best to succeed," notes Fagon. "They look at how much capital they have in the bank, if the account's location is secured, its retail location or manufacturing facility, if it has experience in the industry. We're not going to be doing that here.” 

In fact, out of the 36 permits announced back in November, eight were given to nonprofits and the majority of of others were granted to people with past arrests for marijuana as, according to the Daily News, "an attempt to rectify what many see as the past wrongs of an overly harsh system." 

"The applicants don't tell us how much money or experience they have," says Fagon, adding that they need to show two years of profitability as a business. "We ask: what happened to you? What was your arrest like? Where were you arrested? In the regulations, we can evaluate the applicant based on past contributions to their communities: have they served in leadership? Volunteered in their community? We're looking for established community leaders or those who have a strong track record of creating opportunities for others in their communities."

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Fagon adds. “A lot of states didn’t want to go through the trouble of trying to make it work. As many can see, it’s not without its challenges. We’re centering mostly on those harmed by prohibition at the start of our industry. It’s the right thing and sends a message about our priorities.”

When will more licenses be given out?

The state is releasing more licenses all the time. The most recent batch of licenses is expected to hit in January—1,445 new business licenses, including at least 500 for dispensaries, according to Gothamist.

How else can I get involved in the industry?

It’s not just about dispensaries and consumers. The now-regulated cannabis industry will include the launch of a variety of other jobs at the retail and production level, for example.

“If you fancy yourself a farmer, you can grow cannabis,” says Botto. “There is also a tech side as all the infrastructure to support the cannabis industry is being built.”

Cannabis in the news

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In a city overflowing with mid-to-low-grade dispensaries, Gotham, the women-founded cannabis and concept store, has stood out for its youthful branding and top-shelf products. The beloved Manhattan dispensary recently announced plans to open a new location at The Refinery at Domino, the site of the former Domino Sugar Factory that's now a waterfront mixed use building near the Williamsburg Bridge. RECOMMENDED: Weed 101: Everything to know about cannabis in NYC The new Gotham store will be the brand's second location, this one occupying a 4,000 square-foot space on the ground floor of the 15-story building. The owners signed a 10-year lease for the address, per the Commercial Observer, that is set to open in the fall.  The first Gotham dispensary opened at 3 East 3rd Street in Manhattan last May and has since upheld its reputation as a community-forward business. The Manhattan store partners with STRIVE New York, an organization that seeks to empower Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by anti-cannabis laws.  In addition to its wide selection of cannabis, THC and CBD products, Gotham also sells well-liked lifestyle-adjacent items, like the colorful blue and lilac Murano Sommerso ashtray and customized clothing.  “We’re delighted to welcome Gotham to The Refinery and support their expansion into Brooklyn, where they’ll continue to elevate and disrupt the cannabis industry,” said Bonnie Campbell, principal at Two Trees Management, the landlord

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When shopping for weed, there are certain red—and green—flags to look out for. Ever since the consumption and sale of cannabis were legalized in New York, our streets have been peppered with new smoke shops hawking pre-rolls, flower and gummies. It seems like there’s a new smoke shop on every corner these days, and while it’s a sign of a new era in New York City, this influx has also caused some problems for the state’s dispensary rollout plan. “Unlicensed dispensaries have littered New York neighborhoods, blatantly circumventing our laws and selling potentially dangerous products,” Governor Kathy Hochul said last week. “Enough is enough. I promised to protect our communities and hard-working, legal cannabis licensees by expediting the closure of illicit storefronts. I’m proud to stand up and say we got it done.” Hochul announced a new plan to shut down “illicit” cannabis shops and to protect the legal or licensed marketplace in the state’s FY25 Enacted Budget, including giving authority to the Office of Cannabis Management and local municipalities to take action against illegal/unlicensed stores and “those who enable them.” The governor’s office says these new plans are “the strongest set of policies enacted thus far to tackle the illicit cannabis marketplace.” RECOMMENDED: Weed 101: Everything to know about cannabis in NYC Here’s how New York will crack down on unlicensed/illegal cannabis dispensaries OCM and the NYPD will be able to inspect and padlock businesses if they s

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Happy (almost) high holidays! 4/20 is nearly here again and restaurants, bars and chains throughout New York City are celebrating the buzzy festivities with food-and-drink specials, some that are actually cannabis-infused and some that are simply groovy in spirit. Now that marijuana legalization in NYC has officially rolled out, there are plenty of 4/20 events, parties and activations throughout the boroughs in honor of the April 20 holiday, and here are some great options for satisfying all those munchies:  &pizza The ‘za chain is doing a full week of deals and discounts for April 20, which they have excellently dubbed the “Daze of Stonemas.” Among the festive food specials are $4.20 garlic knots available on Thursday, $4.20 off orders of $20 or more on Friday, and $4.20 off select pies all day as well as free &pizza-branded rolling papers.  Bubbakoo’s Burritos The Mexican restaurant chain, which has outposts in Staten Island and throughout New Jersey, will fry up free churros for customers who purchase an entrée at any of its locations nationwide. Stop in on April 20 between 3pm and, duh, 4:20pm to get the complementary cinnamon sweets.  Dunkin’ Though not specifically designed to celebrate 4/20, the coffee-and-doughnuts brand will give away a free cold brew (with your choice of toppings and syrups) to all Dunkin’ Rewards members as part of its National Cold Brew Day promotions on April 20. (After all, you might need a java jolt from all of that time spent, uh, relaxing.) I

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Embodying a quintessential Brooklyn look, Ella Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris' step-daughter, first gained notoriety when bringing much-needed creative flair to the White House. Now, the model-slash-fashion-icon is ready for her next big role—and New Yorkers are getting a front-row seat.   Emhoff is celebrating the opening of her first art exhibit, a collection of knit portraits on display at The Mezz, a gallery space inside East Village cannabis store Gotham at 3 East 3rd Street by Cooper Square, through the end of April.  RECOMMENDED: The best galleries in NYC “I’m feeling really nervous and giddy,” Emhoff said to Time Out ahead of the opening. “I’ve never shown work like this before.” The artist hopes the project will serve as a departure from her ways of the past. Instead of putting herself front-and-center, she now wants her work to speak for itself.  “I’m calming down and returning more to the creative and quieter aspects,” she said. “Which is nice, because I got [everything else] out of my system.” Among the many experiences the 24-year-old is likely referring to is her 2021 Presidential inauguration appearance. As the daughter of second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Ella made a splash at the event wearing a Miu Miu coat bedazzled at the shoulders and accentuated by a pilgrim collar.  At the time, New Yorkers gawked in awe, mesmerized at how accurately she embodied the ethos and aesthetics of a certain Bushwick prototype.  She was affectionately dubbed the “first daught

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Following the legalization of recreational marijuana in NYC, a full festival about cannabis was inevitable. Next month, it’s happening.  The celebration is a marriage of clichés: the event is called MARY Fest—a reference to one of marijuana’s nicknames, Mary Jane—and it will take place on April 20, which is unofficial weed day. “MARY Fest is the ultimate celebration of the cannabis lifestyle and NYC is the next cannabis capital,” said Adrian Farquharson, the event’s founder, in a statement. “I am excited to bring some of the most respected and innovative brands, as well as experts in the space to NYC for the first time at MARY Fest and provide an experience and space for consumers and the general public to meet their favorite brands and see what’s to come for the great state of New York.” Not much is yet known about the event, although you can already buy tickets for it right here. General admission passes cost $50 but, for now, you can enjoy a $15 discount when using the code ROLLWITHUS. Keep in mind that you must be 21 or older to attend.  According to the press release, MARY Fest will take over a Brooklyn address (you’ll receive the exact destination after you register), where a curation of 30 vendors will show off “products innovating in the cannabis space today.”  In addition to sampling new products and smoking in designated areas, attendees will get to participate in how-to programs, including a class dedicated to growing marijuana plants at home.   What's more, Boston

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Good Grades, the pioneering, totally legal cannabis store in Jamaica, Queens, is now offering delivery throughout Queens and Brooklyn.  Good Grades prides itself on sourcing high quality and locally grown cannabis and their namesake comes from the weekly “report cards” they use to vet the highest quality weed. RECOMMENDED: Meet your licensed weed dealers The family-run dispensary is owned by cousins Extasy James and Michael James Jr., who grew up in the neighborhood and who are committed to having a positive impact on the community by providing great weed and also giving back to locals through education and financial support.  “At the core of our company is educating the consumers in the market,” Michael James Jr., who is also a lawyer, told Time Out. “We are also taking an educational approach to schooling and guiding the next generation.” The dispensary works alongside city colleges and offers scholarships to students in certain majors, including finance, accounting, and urban studies.  Their “report cards” were developed by the dispensary and grades weed based on whether it’s locally grown, organic, and of good quality. They also look at industry-wide standards that are based on a 5A grading system that divides weed into 5 main categories: AAA, AA, A, and B, per their website. 5A is the highest grade and usually involves pure buds with few leaves and stems. The dispensary only sells weed that they give an ‘A’ and don't consider anything that they give a B or below. You ca

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The next stop is: Vernon Boulevard. A new licensed recreational cannabis dispensary is in town and it’s MTA transit-themed, complete with a life-sized subway car with moving doors that you can actually go inside. NYC Bud, at 4445 Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, is not only the area’s first recreational dispensary but the first subway-themed dispensary. The interior is designed to look like an MTA subway station with vintage subway benches, subway signs and even graffiti from classic ’80s artists. RECOMMENDED: Your guide to legal weed in NYC: what marijuana legalization actually means Photograph: courtesy of NYC Bud Photograph: courtesy of NYC Bud Photograph: courtesy of NYC Bud Photograph: courtesy of NYC Bud “As native New Yorkers, we know the Subway is the backbone of the city. Its 24-hour system allows NYC to be the city that never sleeps and moves us, our employees, and our customers around,” said Jonpaul Pezzo, owner and operator of NYC Bud. “Transit is an obvious inspiration for our store, and we’ve designed it in a way that not only tells the story of New York but will also encourage people to hop on the subway and spend time at NYC Bud, even just to take a photo.”   As for the cannabis, there will be a “wide range of high-quality” NYC cannabis brands for purchase in-store or delivery, including flower, pre-rolls, vapes, edibles and accessories from brands like Dank, Zizzle, MFNY, Ruby Farms, Good Times, Chef for Higher and Plug N Play. Pezzo, who joins

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NugHub NY just created Staten Island’s first legal weed delivery service, despite a slew of legal challenges. Founded by Michael Gertelman, an advocate for weed dispensaries and fair treatment for cannabis business owners all throughout New York City, NugHub NY’s mission is to provide safe and clean weed to New Yorkers in Staten Island and South Brooklyn.  NugHub NY came to fruition after Michael “Mo” Gertelman, the founder of NugHub NY, filed a CAURD (Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary) application just two weeks before the deadline for filing applications. Although Gertelman had intended to have a brick-and-mortar weed business, recent legislation put that plan on hold. RECOMMENDED: A major player in NYC's cannabis scene is opening a second shop "Cannabis is merely the product we sell; and we don’t want that to be what defines us," Gertelman told Stupid Dope.  Photograph: Courtesy of Mo Gertleman Until a physical dispensary comes to fruition, NugHub NY will deliver quality weed to some parts of New York. They also partner with farmers who adhere to strict safety guidelines, including abstaining from using pesticides. "Staten Island deserves access to safe, premium cannabis, and that's what we deliver at NugHub NY," Gertelman told Time Out New York. "We're more than a business; we're dedicated to the well-being of our community." You can find more information and order from NugHub NY here. The shop currently sells flower, pre-rolls, edibles and more.

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If you were ever confused about a place called the Union Square Travel Agency, we can confirm that it’s decidedly not a travel agency, at least not one that will take you on a traditional trip; it’s actually an iconic cannabis store, and they’re changing their name and expanding to a new borough. Now The Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store is opening a second location at 118-122 Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn next week.  The dispensary opened its first location last year near Union Square on the corner of Broadway and East 13th Street in Manhattan. Much more akin to walking into an Apple Store than meeting your dealer around the corner after dusk, The Travel Agency has quickly become known for providing an elevated cannabis experience led by trained experts. RECOMMENDED: Weed 101: Everything to know about cannabis in NYC The newest iteration of The Travel Agency will open on January 29 in a design-forward pop-up until its 4,800-square-foot permanent location just next door is ready to open its doors. The dispensary will also begin to accept orders for delivery throughout Brooklyn. Photograph: The Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store "We know there is just as much of an appetite for safe, tested, and quality cannabis in Brooklyn as in Manhattan," says co-founder Arana Hankin-Biggers. "We are excited to be able to continue to contribute to the growth of this exciting new industry, by creating more jobs, and helping to educate consumers about the value of shopping legal." The Tra

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Happy cannaversary, New York! We declared 2023 the year of weed and it really was. Over the last 12 months, Time Out New York has followed the wafts of smoke with coverage of NYC’s first-ever licensed recreational cannabis dispensary at Housing Works Cannabis Co. and its incredible revenue stream; its first luxury cannabis and cultural store; Brooklyn’s first woman-owned dispensary; and others including one with a Dior-clad staff and another travel-themed shop that comedian Amy Sedaris budtendered at. We also covered the opening of a THC museum, which could only make sense in a city that consumes the most cannabis in the world. It’s a brave new world and NYC’s licensed dispensary owners, some of whom were previously incarcerated on marijuana charges, are pioneers. They’re leading the city and the state’s foray into the sale of legalized recreational cannabis—an industry that has never been regulated here before. RECOMMENDED: Weed 101: Everything to know about cannabis in NYC New York State legalized the sale of cannabis for adult recreational use in 2022. That year, thousands of New Yorkers applied for their Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) license and 47 of them went on to open licensed dispensaries, including 16 of them right here in New York City in 2023. More than 3.5 million units of tested cannabis products were sold across the state’s licensed dispensaries bringing in about $150 million in retail sales and nearly $16.3 million in state revenue, accordin

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