NY Marijuana Legalization — a Deep Dive on Laws

Today we take a dive into NY marijuana legalization (medical and recreational) — a topic that’s expanded dramatically in the past few years.

First: is marijuana legal in NY?

Yes! Glory, glory, it’s true. Since 2021, all cannabis rules in NY have strengthened user protections and even expanded into social equity. We’ll cover all of this below.

Table of Contents


The Start of Marijuana Legalization in NY

In 1989, more than 4 out of 5 Americans opposed legalizing marijuana. That dropped to an even split by 2010, and by 2019, 2 out of 3 Americans actually favored legalization.

In New York, cannabis was once allowed for medical use. That law, enacted in 1914, met a quick end when the state outlawed cannabis altogether in 1927. Then, exactly 100 years after medical cannabis had been legalized, the 2014 passage of the Compassionate Care Act again made medical marijuana a thing.

Recreational use took a bit longer. It started appearing on the state legislative agenda in 2013 with the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which Senators Peoples-Stokes and Krueger introduced every single year since. During that time, the Compassionate Care Act was expanded to include more legal medicinal indications like PTSD and chronic pain.

Most states have legalized recreational marijuana via a ballot referendum, but that’s not the standard operating procedure in New York. Instead, Governor Cuomo encouraged the Legislature in 2018 to study how recreational sales would affect the state. That study concluded that its positive effects would vastly outweigh the negatives.

The MRTA was contentious for a number of years. Cuomo started by signing a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He also put forth a process by which those with prior marijuana convictions could expunge them from their records.


While the MRTA was looking hopeful in January 2021, Cuomo had proposed his own cannabis proposal: the Cannabis Regulation and Taxaction Act (CRTA).

The main differences between the bills were that the MRTA emphasized immediate social equity, with all new tax income going toward community reinvestments, drug treatment, and public school aid.

The CRTA aimed to unroll social equity more slowly, starting with a $10 million annual grant and moving up to $50 million in 5 years. However, Cuomo’s political career soon became plagued by scandals, and his policy initiative suffered.

As a result, Cuomo ceded parts of his proposal. On March 31, 2021, the MRTA was officially signed into law, legalizing recreational marijuana in New York.

Is Marijuana Legal in NY Public Spaces?

Yes, it’s legal to smoke or vape marijuana anywhere where smoking tobacco is allowed in New York. The smoke-free air laws determine where this is legal. There are a few exceptions to this as well.

How Much Marijuana Can I Carry?

Adults 21 and over can possess ≤3 oz. of cannabis flower and ≤24 grams of cannabis concentrate. This marijuana must be for personal use only. Learn more about these measurements here.

Where Is Marijuana Legal in NY and Where Can’t I Use It?

While you’re allowed to smoke marijuana in certain public places, it is illegal to use cannabis in motor vehicles, even while parked. You also cannot smoke marijuana in outdoor dining areas at restaurants.

What Is the Punishment for Illegal Cannabis Use?

All cannabis rules in NY prohibit use in certain areas, and doing so can lead to fines and a civil summons. People 21 and younger are not allowed to sell, use, or possess any amount of marijuana. Driving under the influence of marijuana will be treated the same as any other substance.

Are Weed Dispensaries Legal?

Not yet, but they will be. Once they are, adults 21 and over will be able to purchase cannabis products from dispensaries with a state license.

Is Home Cultivation Legal?

Soon, home cultivation will be legal. New York marijuana legalization will also allow adults to grow up to three cannabis plants at home, and homes with more than one adult can cultivate up to six plants. When this passes, adults will also be allowed to store as much as 5 pounds of cannabis in their homes.

What About Medical Cannabis?

State-registered health care providers can legally prescribe medical cannabis. Patients using medical cannabis must register with the state.

When all cannabis rules in NY have been finalized, patients will also be allowed to cultivate as many as six plants at their homes at any given time.

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JJ Smoak

Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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