New York Leaders Are Embracing the New Cannabis Law Changes
Although New York’s medical marijuana laws have been criticized for being unusually restrictive, state leaders, along with New York City officials, are pushing for much more progressive changes to legislation—including full recreational legalization! Thanks to advocacy groups and education, cannabis is finally being recognized in many states for its inherent benefits and potential to change lives. To get an idea of how far cannabis has come and how much governments, the medical community, and the general population are now embracing the benefits of legalizing cannabis, first, we’ll take a look at New York’s cannabis law history.
Timeline of New York’s Cannabis History
- 1927 Prohibition
New York first required a prescription for cannabis in 1914. The New York Times responded with a prediction that now that the drug would be harder to get, the drug would suddenly attract more “devotees.” In 1927, New York denied cannabis’ medical value and restricted in completely.
- 1939-1944 La Guardia Committee
In 1939, a committee was specifically assigned to determine the effects of cannabis on New York City. The committee was appointed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In 1944, the committee issued a report largely debunking the “gateway drug” theory of cannabis and concluding that it did not have a wide effect on addiction, school children, or juvenile delinquency. The report, however, was ignored and deemed unscientific by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
- 1977 Decriminalization
In 1977, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana was reduced to an infraction with a $100 fine. Possession in public view, however, remained a misdemeanor, which eventually became a problem for arrests carried out on the Latino and black populations. While arrests dropped off after 1977, between 1997 and 2010, over half a million people were arrested for low-level, public-view possession, of which 80% were black or Latino.
In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio directed the NYPD to stop arresting people for these offenses and to start issuing tickets instead. Arrests once again dropped off for a while, but then crept back up in 2016. In response, the re-escalation, the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys announced in 2018 that they would continue reducing the set of offenses that they would prosecute.
- 2014 Medical Cannabis
In 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes, following much debate on the issue in the Senate and a 49–10 Senate vote. Immediately following, the state Department of Health had 18 months to enact a medical marijuana program to provide non-smoking methods of cannabis consumption to patients. The legislation awarded five contracts to private marijuana growers, restricting four dispensaries of operation to each.
- 2018 Legalization Study
Governor Cuomo, in his 2018 State of the State speech, urged the New York State Legislature to fund a study on the effects of fully legalizing cannabis for recreational use. When the Department of Health completed its study, it recommended the legalization of cannabis in New York, reasoning economic, public health, and public safety benefits.
Current Medical Marijuana Laws
In 2014, New York became the 23rd state to legalize some form of medical marijuana. The Senate, however, was reluctant to pass this compassionate care act. But after much emotional debate, a very restricted bill was passed for only 10 medical conditions. This was later expanded to 12 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients, including:
- positive status for HIV or AIDS
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- multiple sclerosis
- damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with an objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
- inflammatory bowel disease
- chronic pain as defined by 10 NYCRR §1004.2(a)(8)(xi)
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- Huntington’s disease
- any condition for which an opioid could be prescribed
Other rules laid out by Bill Number A06357E include:
- The drug cannot be smoked.
- There will be only 20 dispensaries across the state run by five organizations (there are currently a couple of more than that number).
- Sales are restricted to five kinds/brands of marijuana.
- Patients must be certified by a registered practitioner.
- Users must register with the health department and receive an ID.
- Patients can only purchase from registered dispensaries.
Patient advocates feared that the many limitations would hinder patients from getting the strains that were known to work best on their specific illness and that too few producers and dispensaries would limit the availability of medical marijuana.
Hemp-derived CBD, which contains less than .3% THC and is non-psychoactive, is currently legal and sold widely in across the state.
Exciting Recent and Upcoming Changes in New York
New York prosecutors are tired of all the petty marijuana cases and the large amount of racial disparities among marijuana arrests. So much so that Brooklyn and Manhattan district attorneys have refused to continue prosecuting the majority of cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio evidently agrees, and in June of 2018, he announced that as of September, NYPD would hand out tickets to anyone caught smoking pot in public, instead of arresting them. This is projected to cut arrests by about 10,000 a year. The mayor had implemented a similar plan in 2014, but it had not included public possession.
But what’s even more exciting is that recreational legalization has just moved another step closer in New York. Governor Cuomo’s 2018 budget allowed for a study on the effects of legalizing marijuana. In June of 2018, the Health Department released a report recommending that New York State should allow adults to legally consume marijuana, and impose taxes at about 7 to 10 percent. Resistance is anticipated from the Republican-led Senate. However, more and more legislators are changing their minds as they become more educated about cannabis and how it can change the lives of people who are suffering from devastating conditions. Over a year ago, Governor Cuomo was still referring to marijuana as a “gateway drug.” Now, he is considering full legalization.
It is taking some time, but change is being effected through education and the real-life experiences of those that have benefitted from medical marijuana and hemp-derived CBD.
Wolfe, J. “Marijuana in New York: Here’s How the Laws Are Changing.” The New York Times.20 June 2018. Web. Accessed 7 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/nyregion/marijuana-laws-new-york.html
McKinley, J. and Saint Louis, C. “New York State Marijuana Rules Shaping Up as Unusually Restrictive.” The New York Times. 29 March 2015. Web. Accessed 8 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/30/nyregion/new-york-states-medical-marijuana-rules-shaping-up-as-unusually-restrictive.html?module=inline
Williams, A. “Why Is CBD Everywhere.” The New York Times. 27 October 2018. Web. Accessed 7 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/style/cbd-benefits.html