On Wednesday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the historic marijuana legalization law that the state legislature passed overnight. The sponsors of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) say that it will take a considerable amount of time for the regulatory system for legal cannabis to be created and for licenses to be issued, which means it could be 16 to 18 months before New York will be able to walk into a store and buy legal weed.
But marijuana is legal for adults right now, and many criminal penalties connected to its use have been removed. Here’s how the law may affect you.
Can I smoke weed on the street?
Adults 21 and older can smoke or consume marijuana anywhere it is currently legal to use tobacco.
How much marijuana am I allowed to have?
You can have up to 3 ounces, either at home, or in public. In several months, when the Office of Cannabis Management sets up the permanent regulations for the cannabis economy, New Yorkers will be able to have up to 5 pounds of pot at home. But not quite yet.
Can I smoke a joint in the park?
Smoking tobacco is prohibited in city parks, and thus so is smoking marijuana.
However, the penalty for smoking marijuana is no longer a criminal offense. It’s a civil infraction, like littering. You could face a $25 fine, and up to 20 hours of community service if you’re found guilty.
If I’m under 21 and the cops catch me smoking weed, what will happen?
Minors in possession of marijuana face a civil penalty of $50 and drug education. There are no criminal consequences, and the penalties do not escalate with the number of offenses.
What if I’m selling marijuana now, can I keep selling it?
It’s a violation to sell any amount of marijuana unlawfully under the MRTA, but harsh penalties for selling lower amounts have been removed.
“Because there’s no regulated market, you would be subject to a criminal violation and a fine of up to $250, if you sell any amount under 3 ounces,” said Eli Northrup, policy counsel for The Bronx Defenders. “Anything more than that is a misdemeanor.”
Can an NYPD officer stop me and search me because they smell weed?
No, the MRTA does not allow the police to use the odor of marijuana, whether it’s burned or not, as a reason for a stop and search. This again was a goal of the MRTA’s sponsors, who pointed to the explosion of marijuana arrests during the stop-and-frisk era.
In 1994, the NYPD made 3,000 arrests for smoking marijuana in public; in 2000, they made 50,000 such arrests; in the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to around 30,000 a year.
The vast majority of those arrested—85%—were Black or Latino; even as marijuana arrests dipped to historic lows over the past few years, the racial disparities still exist.
In an interview with PIX 11 on Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said it was “troubling” that New Yorkers will now be able to smoke marijuana outside, because the department fields so many complaints about the smell of marijuana.
“I don’t know what we’re going to be telling New Yorkers when they call up and say, there’s people smoking in front of my house or apartment building or I take my kids to a parade, whether its on Eastern Parkway or on Fifth Avenue, and there are people smoking marijuana next to me as I try to enjoy the parade,” Shea said.
As for Shea’s concerns, Northrup countered, “I don’t know how that will be any different from people complaining about second-hand smoke.”
He added, “I think what the commissioner is really worried about is that officers can no longer use that odor as a pretext to stop, search, and harass people. It’s the number one basis we see for police searching cars, searching people, and when I say searching cars, searching people, it’s people of color. That tool has been removed from their toolbox, they’re going to have to do actual police work.”
Can the police pull me over and say they smell marijuana and use that to charge me with DUI?
Yes, the police can use the smell of marijuana to determine if someone is driving while intoxicated. That law already exists, and New Yorkers are already prosecuted for driving under the influence of weed.
Unlike alcohol, where there is a legal limit of 0.08, there is no limit with marijuana, so any level of use while operating a motor vehicle is a criminal misdemeanor.
If you must ride in a car with marijuana, you should treat it like an open container of alcohol, and store it in the trunk.
The law says that I can grow up to six plants in my home—can I plant those seeds now?
Until the MRTA sets up the regulatory system for growing marijuana, home growing is still technically unlawful—but there are no criminal penalties for it.
Also, your landlord or co-op board may have their own prohibitions on this activity, just like they may have prohibitions on smoking cigarettes indoors. Check your lease.
I live in a NYCHA building, can I smoke weed indoors?
No, that is technically illegal, as marijuana is still federally prohibited, and in 2018 NYCHA banned cigarette smoking everywhere except for designated areas.
I was arrested for smoking marijuana a few years ago, will that arrest now go away?
Yes. Everything that is now legal under the MRTA will be automatically expunged.
What if I was arrested and convicted of selling weed?
According to Northrup, if you were convicted of criminal sale in the 5th degree, or 4th degree—anything less than 25 grams of marijuana—your conviction will automatically be expunged.
Can I get fired for using weed?
The MRTA has employment protections against being fired for a positive marijuana test, but if your job requires any sort of federal clearance, the prohibition on federal marijuana supersedes state law. Your boss can fire you for getting high on the job, just like they could fire you for drinking on the job.
Will those drug convictions prevent me from getting a license in this new weed economy?
No, and this was very deliberate on the part of the legislature. Only convictions for fraud and unlawful business practices will prohibit New Yorkers from obtaining a license.
The MRTA’s main sponsor in the Assembly, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, was asked point blank on the floor if people convicted of drug crimes would be able to participate in the legal cannabis economy.
“Yes,” she replied, and pointed to the ten difference licenses the MRTA will eventually hand out: cultivators, processors, distributors, dispensaries, consumption sites, cooperatives, deliverers, nurseries, and microbusinesses, which will operate like microbreweries.
“There will be a lot of opportunities for them,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Listen to Christopher Robbins and Matt Katz discuss marijuana legalization in New York and New Jersey with David Furst on WNYC’s All Things Considered: