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The everything guide to 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
Shaye Weaver
Written by
Anna Rahmanan
Shaye Weaver

A pretty informed prediction: 2023 will be the year of weed in New York. 

Given the recent legalization of recreational marijuana and the distribution of the first dispensary licenses, loads of (exciting!) changes are sure to affect our way of life in the coming months—but there's a lot to unpack.

“The legal industry that New York really deserves is coming,” says Damian Fagon, the chief equity officer at the Office of Cannabis Management. “There are a lot of steps we have to take procedurally and legally. but it’s going to be worth it. We will have the most diverse, inclusive, equitable, high-value industry in the world.”

Back in March of 2021, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a 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). 

Fast-forward nearly two years and we're finally seeing what the legalization of recreational cannabis will actually look like.

Let's start with the basics: all adults aged 21 and older can possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana or .85 ounces of concentrated marijuana at any given moment. Inside their homes, they are entitled to the ownership of up to 5 pounds of the drug.

Folks can also grow up to 12 cannabis plants inside their own abodes, although regulations about this aspect of the business have yet to be fully fleshed out, as are guidelines regarding weed farming (which is now also legal!).

Also to note: all previous marijuana-related criminal records in the state of New York have officially been expunged given the current legality of the substance.

In November, New York State finally doled out its first-ever dispensary licenses, meaning we'll soon see legal cannabis in stores.

There are a lot of questions to be answered: can weed also be grown at home, for example? 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.

Recommended: What to expect in NYC now that weed is legal

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 begins, many cities and towns may also opt to set up on-side consumption areas where people will be able to use cannabis. No word yet on whether specific permits will have to be issued to create these areas.

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 licences. 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).

When will dispensaries open?

No official dates regarding the opening of dispensaries have yet been announced. Licenses have, however, already been given out and officials hope to see the first legal stores set up by the beginning of 2023.

Special call out: Housing Works opened its own dispensary, Housing Works Cannabis Co on December 29, 2022.

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?

As of publication, there are no legally opened dispensaries in New York—although officials expect the first few to launch in the next couple of months. 

“We will have a whole campaign and put up ads that legal cannabis is coming,” explains Fagon. “We intend to create a map that people can use to locate legal cannabis. We want to make it as easy as possible, especially with delivery. You’ll be able to order cannabis from your phone.”

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 it 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 met 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 announced that 150 CUARD permits are scheduled to be distributed before the end of 2022 so expect an announcement regarding the topic to be made in the next few days.

"We have more coming before Christmas and we'll continue rolling them out through the new year," Fagon says. "We'll be gearing up for beyond CUARD next summer when we'll be licensing hundreds if not thousands of licenses across state…In 2023, we will see our legal industry grow dramatically."

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.”


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