Marijuana legalization is coming to New York

But you still won't be allowed to smoke it

Photograph: Shutterstock

Big news for fans of the ganja: Pot is set to become legal in New York State, with Governor Cuomo announcing yesterday that patients with a very particular set of complaints will be able to use weed to alleviate their symptoms. But wait! Put down that honey-bear bong, because not only is it only legal for medical use, you will also only be allowed to purchase it in vaporized or oil-based form. (And don't start bugging your doctor pals, either—doctors who are found to abuse the system will face up to four years in jail.) 

Meanwhile, it's still technically illegal to walk around town smoking a joint, and yet De Blasio's new D.A., Ken Thompson, went as far to broach the subject in his inaugural address, saying that he would effectively decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Brooklyn. So why are there still 80 arrests a day for marijuana possession in New York City? This highlights New York's odd relationship with marijuana. On one hand, NYC has always been a very liberal city, home to a lot of—shall we say—creative and artistic types. During the '90s, for example, there was a surge of marijuana delivery services that brought high-quality pot to your door, and it's hardly like the services were a secret. (Some of those services are still going strong: There are even, allegedly, some weed services where off-duty models bring all the weed you could ever need directly to your apartment, as well as others that deal entirely in edibles, and still others who deal only in artisanal hybrid strains. Not that we'd know anything about such things, obviously.) On the other hand, the city spent almost a billion dollars on marijuana arrests over a 15-year period.

Considering that weed has been proven to be far less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol, why is marijuana still illegal in New York? There are some who believe it's a racial issue, giving police an excuse to arrest minorities over crimes that whites would probably be excused for. It's certainly true that there are still an alarming amount of predominantly young black and Hispanic men getting arrested for low-level possession, with an alleged 85 percent of all marijuana arrests seeming to target these two groups.

Whatever the reason for New York's expensive and wasteful war on weed, this new bill—which would see up to 20 privately run marijuana dispensaries open across the state, once the law comes into effect sometime in 2016, each charging a 7 percent sales tax—seems like one step closer toward legalization for recreational use. Just don't expect to be able to buy ready-rolled joints at the bodega anytime soon.