New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Signs Adult-Use Cannabis Bill Into Law


Start passing the joints. New York legalized cannabis today.

Hours after the New York state legislature approved an amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law, paving the way for adult-use sales to begin sometime in 2022.

“The bill creates automatic expungement of previous marijuana convictions that would now be legal,” Cuomo tweeted, calling it an “historic day.”

With his signature, New York up becomes the 16th state to legalize the sale and possession of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, and just the third state to do so through the legislature.

On Tuesday, the New York Senate approved the cannabis legalization bill (S854) by a vote of 40-23. It then passed in the Assembly (A1248) by a vote of 100-49.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a lead sponsor of the bill who has been pushing for legalization since 2013, said she “could not be more proud to cast my vote to end the failed policies of marijuana prohibition in our state, and begin the process of building a fair and inclusive legal market for adult-use cannabis.”

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Cuomo, who is facing allegations of sexual harassment, called adult-use cannabis legalization a “major leap forward” for New York.

“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences and after years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public,” he said.

The Empire State joins Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, which have legalized the sale of adult-use cannabis.

South Dakota voters also approved adult-use cannabis last November, however a state judge ruled last month that the measure, Amendment A, was unconstitutional. A state Supreme Court appeal is currently pending.

As THCnet reported Monday, the new law allows adults to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of cannabis concentrate outside of the home. This takes effect immediately. 

The legislation creates an Office of Cannabis Management that is tasked with implementing a “comprehensive regulatory framework,” and overseeing the state’s medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp markets. It also expands New York’s existing medical marijuana and hemp programs and creates a “two-tier licensing structure” that separates growers, processors and wholesalers from also owning retail dispensaries.

Meanwhile, a 13% state excise tax will apply to all cannabis products sold at the retail level, with 9% going to the state and 4% being split between counties (25%) and municipalities (75%).

Additionally, cannabis distributors will be required to pay the following THC tax: 0.5 cents per milligram for flower, 0.8 cents per milligram for concentrated cannabis, and 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

The new law allows New Yorkers to cultivate up to six plants at home (3 mature and 3 immature), and up to 12 plants in households with more than one adult.


In a statement, Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steve Hawkins, who is also serving as the interim CEO of the recently launched US Cannabis Council, said he expects 2021 to be a “record-breaking year for legislature legalizing cannabis.”

“More than two-thirds of Americans believe it’s time to end prohibition and this move represents the latest example of elected officials joining the chorus of support for legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults,” he said via the statement.

Indeed, several other states are currently looking to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers sent a bill legalizing recreational marijuana to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. However, Northam is proposing several changes, including accelerating the timeline for legalizing cannabis possession by nearly three years (to July 1, 2021).

New Mexico lawmakers are also working to legalize adult-use cannabis as part of a special legislative session. An amended version of the bill, HB 2, passed a pair of committees this week, and a floor debate is forthcoming.

Cannabis legalization measures are also being considered in Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

Collectively, legalization in those markets would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and generate millions in tax revenue at a time when state governments are grappling with budget shortfalls.

In New York specifically, which is projected to become the second-largest cannabis market in the U.S., behind California, legalization is expected to bring in upwards of $350 million in annual tax revenue and create as many as 60,000 new jobs.

Adult-use cannabis sales are not expected to begin for about 18 months. However, recreational dispensaries are expected to sell more than $1 billion worth of cannabis in year one, according to New Frontier Data. That figure is expected to grow to $3.6 billion by year four.

Meanwhile, a separate study conducted by MPG Consulting on behalf of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, pegs the total recreational and medical marijuana markets in New York at a combined $5.8 billion by 2027.

By comparison, adult-use sales in California — the world’s largest individual cannabis market — reached $4.4 billion in 2020 (the third year of recreational sales), according to Marijuana Business Daily.


Several cannabis industry executives turned to Twitter to cheer legalization in New York, including Boris Jordan, the founder and chairman of the world’s largest cannabis company, Curaleaf.

“Thank you to the #NewYork legislators & everyone who works to get it done yesterday,” he tweeted. “Simply a monumental victory for #cannabis and New Yorkers!”

Meanwhile, Green Thumb Industries founder and CEO Ben Kovler — who is currently battling “unfounded allegations” of illegal “pay-to-play” lobbying tactics — marked the occasion by quoting Billy Joel’s classic “New York state of Mind."

Both Curaleaf and Green Thumb own coveted assets in New York and are poised to benefit from the implementation of an adult-use market.

For his part, The Parent Company chairman Michael Auerbach, who resides in New York but currently competes in the California cannabis market, said the Empire State is “doing it right.”

“After a slow start to medical marijuana and lots of missteps — this bill reflects one of the most progressive legalization efforts in the nation with a real focus on rectifying the wrongs of prohibition, specifically in communities of color,” he tweeted.

Nicholas Vita, the co-founder and CEO of Columbia Care, which has operations in 18 states, including four medical marijuana dispensaries in New York, called it a “monumental day.”

“This could not have happened without the support from the #CannabisCommunity,” he tweeted. “We are one step closer to providing quality cannabis to all.”

In a statement, Cresco Labs co-founder and CEO Charlie Bachtell called New York's successful legalization effort a "balanced approach to creating a competitive market with a strong emphasis on social equity." 

“The legislation passed today significantly expanding the medical program and legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York represents a massive domino falling in what has been a steady march towards acceptance and legalization of cannabis nationwide," he said. "The fourth most populated state in the country with almost 20 million total residents will now have access to high quality, regulated cannabis products and will benefit from the jobs, tax revenue and ancillary business opportunities that this industry creates.

Cresco Labs is one of 10 operators licensed for vertical integration in New York.

"New York is the financial and cultural capital of the world and the legalization of cannabis for adult-use should serve as a catalyst for the progression of cannabis laws far beyond the boundaries of the state," Bachtell added.

While most reactions to the news were positive, the cannabis industry’s biggest critic, Smart Approaches to Marijuana co-founder Kevin Sabet, called the amended MRTA a “very bad bill.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Sabet said the proposal was “poorly thought out and reckless” while simultaneously claiming credit for “defeating” previous versions of the bill “year after year.”

However, Sabet stopped short of explaining how a bill that has been worked on by lawmakers for nearly eight years could be “poorly thought out.”

Nevertheless, adult-use legalization in New York will create extrodinary economic opportunities for communities of color, and Krueger believes the MRTA will serve as a “nation-leading model” for legalization.

“New York’s program will not just talk the talk on racial justice, it will walk the walk,” she said.

New York has a goal of awarding 50% of cannabis licenses to social and economic equity applicants, and 40% of cannabis tax revenue has been earmarked for a “Community Grants Reinvestment Fund.”

The new law also automatically expunges “conviction records for individuals convicted of criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree, criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree, criminal sale of marijuana in the fifth degree, and criminal sale of marijuana in the fourth degree.”

Additional information can be found in the coverage and resources below.

Marijuana Moment: New York Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk

NORML: New York Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie: Assembly to Pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to Legalize Adult Use of Marijuana in New York state

Politico: Cuomo signs bill legalizing adult-use, recreational marijuana in New York

New York Times: New York Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

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