What happened to legal weed for New York?

In a historic legislative session last month, New York lawmakers passed a long-bottled flood of progressive bills covering everything from early voting to rent control.

But legalized recreational marijuana failed to make the cut, despite support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and strenuous efforts by Democrats in the state’s two houses. Despite the failure, two local lawmakers say they believe New York has made significant progress on the issue, with bills that extend decriminalization of marijuana possession and lay the groundwork for small- and mid-sized farmers to get in on the booming industrial hemp sector. 

“We got to decriminalization, we just didn’t get to commercialization,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston), a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization. “We made a lot of progress and in the end it may not matter very much that we didn’t get there in this legislative session.”


Marijuana reform advocates came into 2019 with high hopes. A new Democratic majority in the state Senate appeared poised to push through a whole host of progressive legislation that had long been blocked by Republican control of the body. Cuomo, who had previously spoken against legalization and described pot as a “gateway drug,” signaled a change of heart. In his State of the State address in January, Cuomo said he wanted to see legalization of recreational use marijuana pass as part of the state’s budget process. Many lawmakers were looking towards Massachusetts, where the first recreational-use pot shops opened late last year, drawing a flood of New Yorkers — and their tax dollars — across the border. In New Jersey, lawmakers appeared poised to pass their own recreational use law raising the prospect of millions more in New York weed money flowing into another state’s coffers.

But that early momentum appeared to fade after New Jersey’s legalization effort fell apart at the last minute. New York lawmakers debated how the law would work, how much control to give municipalities over the decision to allow marijuana sales and, critically, how to allocate the anticipated windfall in weed-tax dollars. Many downstate lawmakers wanted to see that revenue rolled into poor communities of color that have borne the brunt of the half-century old War on Drugs in the form of incarceration, heavy-handed policing and diminished prospects for thousands of people with low-level marijuana convictions. The legislative session ended without an agreement satisfactory to both houses and the governor’s office, and with the proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) unvoted upon.

“The real reason this didn’t pass was because the parties couldn’t get together and figure out how to re-compensate communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition,” said Cahill.

Cahill said he believed lawmakers would build on this year’s negotiations, potentially speeding up implementation of legal recreational pot sometime next year. Cahill said that the MRTA was drafted with a long phase-in period to allow the construction of a regulatory structure from scratch. With much of the heavy lifting on those issues already agreed upon, Cahill said, next year’s version of marijuana legalization could pass with a much shorter time frame for implementation.

“We can work out all of the details that we didn’t have complete agreement on, details we were willing to discuss because the iron was hot,” said Cahill. “So this may not result in a delay for the general public so much as a delay in all of the legislative folderol.”

Some improvements

Cahill and state Sen. Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale) both pointed to progress on marijuana issues in the legislative session, particularly the expansion of a 1970s-era decriminalization law that makes simple possession of marijuana a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket, rather than a crime. The new legislation raises limit on non-criminal possession of marijuana from 25 to 50 grams. The law also eliminates an exception that made possession of any amount of marijuana a misdemeanor if the substance was “burning or in public view.” Civil liberties advocates have long complained that the public-view exception allowed cops to make arrests from small amounts of marijuana when the holder exposed their stash to public view by turning out their pockets on orders from a police officer. Another section of the law creates a process for people to have their convictions on marijuana charges expunged.

Ulster County Public Defender Andrew Kossover said the reforms were a good first step towards righting some of the wrongs of marijuana prohibition. But, he added that prohibition would continue to negatively impact the lives of thousands of New Yorkers as long as it remained in effect. Kossover added that while “pure marijuana” arrests had declined over the years, police frequently claimed to smell marijuana as a pretext to search vehicles and people leading to arrests on other charges.

“I can tell you that many a client says, ‘The officer claimed they smelled marijuana, they searched the car, the searched us, but none of us smoke pot,’” said Kossover.

Hemp’s prospects brighten

Metzger said she was excited about new laws creating regulatory framework for the production and distribution on industrial hemp and the non-intoxicating hemp extract CBD that passed just as the 2019 legislative session was about to end.  Federal law allows the production of CBD and industrial hemp, but until now New York lacked a regulatory framework for the industry. Metzger said she and fellow members of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee were able to maneuver the hemp provisions to a vote separately, once it became clear that the larger legalization bill would not pass. The bill creates licensing, labeling and production rules that she said would allow hemp production in New York to grow significantly beyond the current estimated 100,000 acres devoted to its cultivation.

The governor signed the bill into law in December.

There are 16 comments

  1. JG

    Smart Approaches to Marijuana is partly to blame for NY not legalizing. Those people are real swindlers for sure and really know how to use false information to advance an agenda. Sad, but some people just want to be “successful” no matter the cost. And by the way hemp is not good for the real marijuana farmers as it cross-pollinates, an issue that the West Coast is facing now. Something NY should look into.

    1. Liz

      Smart Approaches is just reprehensible. That’s like electing Joe Biden, the ringleader of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. I think they probably know each other honestly.

  2. JG

    Legalize it Federally! NY is behind the times. This wonderful plant should be free for all. Don’t listen to Smart Approaches to Marijuana, as they are a propaganda machine.

  3. Mikey

    Blame Long Island Reps. & Westchester Reps. as they bought into Refer Madness and voted against it. Toby Ann Stavisky (Queens), Senator Roxanne Persaud (Brooklyn), Senator Pete Harckham (Westchester), Senator Shelley Mayer (Westchester), Jim Gaughran (Long Island), John Brooks (Long Island), Anna Kaplan (Long Island), Monica Martinez (Long Island), Todd Kaminsky (Long Island). Remember these names, as I will surely be making them known every election year for my entire life. In 5 years–in 20 years–I’ll be there to remind people what they did. Shame on NY. Shame on these people for not freeing the leaf.

  4. JR

    Why not legalize everything that could bring in the bucks; consequences be damned. “Massachusetts, where the first recreational-use pot shops opened late last year, drawing a flood of New Yorkers — and their tax dollars — across the border. ” Funny how those who claim to abhor capitalism, just love getting that dough. And, isn’t the general public sufficiently “soma”tizied.

    Brave New World A. Huxley: “And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that’s what soma is.”

    Weed. It’s just not that great.

  5. T. Chong, and life soulmate Mary Jane

    What happened is:… … Law enforcement was able to coddle conservative leaders, to use the false statement; “Marijuana” is a gateway drug.”, and circumventing power against those that they swore an oath, to represent. The only “gateway” Marijuana is, is the gateway for law enforcement be able to bypass your right against illegal search and seizure without proper court ordered warrants, by just stating they smelt pot. They do not want to lose this blatant abuse of our Constitutional Right. Pot is the only drug that stinks, and is hard to hide or cover up, both natural odor, and smoking odor, (Hodor!). No other drug, smoked or otherwise, is anywhere near as potent. They twist data to their own personal, erroneous, agendas with statements like; “Most opiate users all started with Marijuana, then worked their way up to the harder drugs.” They do not say that alcohol and nicotine, and most likely sugar also, all addictive drugs, were also most likely abused by these same “user’s” of harder drugs. Alcohol, is far more a “gateway” drug, then any of the others, causes more death, more sickness, and certainly breaks up many more homes and lives than any other substance, known to man, and were all ingested, and “used” by addicts, in their past and present. Cigarette’s kill that is all they do. Yet these all remain legal, and for the most part unregulated. Sugar ruins more lives than pot, which does not, and never has “ruined” anyone’s life, or family, unless it was because of law enforcement involvement. So, now, let’s look at our wonderful Senate, and the final days of session, arguing for Illegal alien’s gaining NYS licenses, and marijuana legalization. The first, will cost both, taxpayer monies, and controversy, and is more than likely unconstitutional, and violates the Fourth Amendment, as a “person” can not be asked their immigration status, so how can they have their licenses marked differently, without asking immigration status? The latter, well, estimates are in the hundreds of millions of taxed commerce dollars, too be had, and the limiting of black market sales, and border smuggling of pot. (Easiest way to stop illegal smuggling of pot over the Mexican/American border, is to make it legal in the USA, then some of the sales revenue can go towards border security. Just sayin’) The Senate and Governor argued that illegal aliens are driving anyways(?), so why not make our roads safer, by giving them driving status, in New York. Then, two days later, our governor, made the statement, and I paraphrase, “I know, that not one illegal alien will go in for licences, this was just a law, as too make a statement to Washington, for 2020.” Now, the argument was exactly the opposite when discussing pot, by our senate, and that they could keep pot user off the road by “NOT” legalizing marijuana. What a dichotomy, huh? Are they that dysfunctional? Now again, one is gonna cost us, the other, will help the sick, and those in chronic agony, help control mental health, along with a real viable tool in liberating the disabled and opiate addicted. Not to mention, all the tax dollars in our coffer’s, and a happy mellow constituency, at home on the couch. And, Hey Senate, WAKE THE HECK UP, AND SMELL THE COFFEE, marijuana users are still gonna’ be out there, in public, high, driving, and walking about, as they always have and always will, not matter what laws are against it. So, that is how this broken government picks and chooses, it’s “arguments” and law passage, by personal agendas and misinformed beliefs. Using the same argument for two different reasons to pass two completely different laws, though, in exactly the opposite context, discript, and perception. Incredible, HUH.!? Legalize Marijuana in New York, and Federally in the entire nation, and free all pot past inmates, relinquishing and expunging any record of arrest, never enter another car, home, business, or “personal space”, for “smelling” pot, without a court ordered warrant. And, stop wasting our taxpaying dollars on “statement” laws passages, that 80% of polled citizenship disagree with, like giving illegal aliens the right to drive legally, without doing everything else legally, as to obtain citizenship. And, make laws that 80% of your constituency want, like legalized pot, and start doing the will of the people again, like this adminstration, has never done, listen too the majority of your Liege’s.

  6. Liz

    The scary thing is how anti-legalization efforts are citing studies that are biased. The only research done on marijuana comes from the NIDA, which always reports negatively on cannabis–it’s self serving. Look into it. Beyond that, most scientists in many fields are at odds with their own methodology, with many studies being retracted. The fact is: empiricism is faulty AND the scientific method is not perfect. Before we appeal to authority, it’s important to keep an open mind and understand how “science” is politicized for personal gain. Until more accurate studies are done, and retracted again and again, it’s better to listen to the citizens using a substance and not authorities. Orwell had some good ideas…..

  7. Brian Kelly

    Don’t be fooled by marijuana “decriminalization” because citizens are still going to be treated like common criminals for marijuana under it. This is what desperate anti-marijuana prohibitionist types will now settle for.

    They also fail to mention the additional huge cost of court costs which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars on top of the relatively small ticket/fine.

    If you fail to pay these very expensive and often unaffordable court costs you will be in “the system” as a criminal. With a warrant out for your arrest and incarceration.

    This policy still allows marijuana to be used as a tool and probable cause by law enforcement to investigate marijuana consumers for no other reason other than even the detection of the scent of marijuana by law enforcement.

    Overall, decriminalization through it’s hidden, super expensive court costs and mandatory summons to appear in court, combined with the allowance of marijuana to still be used by law enforcement as a tool and probable cause still allows marijuana to be an ordinary. otherwise law abiding citizen’s introduction into the criminal justice system.

    No thanks! If this so called policy of marijuana “decriminalization” truly means marijuana is no longer supposed to be a “crime”, then why are marijuana consumers still going to be treated like criminals under it?

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws as the drinkers of alcohol. Plain and simple!

    Citizens will STILL be forced to the dangerous black market and a shady illegal street drug dealer to purchase their marijuana. Getting caught buying it is STILL a crime they will arrest and jail you for. Then, they will also most likely try to FORCE you to either mandatory community service and/or rehab, and if you don’t comply, guess what? JAILTIME!

    Also, we will still be wasting our tax dollars sending police around to write summons to marijuana users and wasting police manpower and resources.

    Instead of allowing our police the time, manpower and resources to protect us all from real, dangerous criminals who actually commit crimes with victims and pose a real threat to society.

    Why else do you think some politicians are so EAGER to “decriminalize”, instead of LEGALIZE?

    Don’t Let’em Fool Us!!!

    If you can’t purchase it legally, then it isn’t legal.

    If you have to fear a monetary fine/ticket which if you don’t pay and/or show up in court to handle, you then become a criminal with a warrant out for your arrest, and when convicted (yes convicted, as in crime.) you will then be forced into free manual labor and/or forced drug rehabilitation to be used as another statistic prohibitionists love to flaunt about supposed “marijuana addicts”, then….No, it’s not legal!

    This will not suffice! Getting caught purchasing marijuana is still considered a serious “drug deal” and you will be prosecuted for it!


  8. Don't step on the grass, Sam!

    Actually, marijuana is one of the most studied substances, since the 1940’s, and even earlier. The problem is, the fact, that those who are oppose to legalization, use only old, flawed, manipulated, tainted data, about 10%- 20% of all findings. Remember, there is mega-data on the medicinal uses of cannabis, from calming seizures in epileptic children, too PTSD control in our brave military returning from “action”, too Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, depression and opiate relief, marijuana has been found study after study to be one of the most beneficial and safest medicinal plants and panaceas’ on earth. Thus, New York, along with other states, have used this data, to pass laws to help the afflicted, making marijuana available for sale, and consumption legally. All that, and other studies comparing alcohol use to pot, have proven a seventy percent drop in vehicle use, by those using pot, because they tend to stay home, or in one place, abilities are heightened, and not dulled as in alcohol use, and tend not to become physically addicted, as with alcohol, cigarettes, or opiates. Estimates, in revenue studies, have pot dwarfing all other recreational drugs, statewide, once taxed and legal, and without prosecution, along with almost half those in prison for drugs being released, because they were only busted for pot, adding up to estimated tax income and combined savings of three billion dollars in total once legal. So, it is all there for them to make the proper conclusion, that of marijuana legalization, some just have to remove their bloated heads, out from their combined butt’s.

  9. Tony Soprano

    What happened to legal weed for New York?
    Two words – organized crime.
    Weed will be legal when the mafia tells Cuomo they’re ready.

  10. Stephen Johnson

    Let’s just keep some things distinguished here. Hemp a naturally occurring, rugged plant, a “weed” that serves a tremendous purpose in the total ecology of things.
    It’s regenerative, healing and self fertilizing capability makes it the king of crops. Hemp can be cropped for valuable foods, engine fuel, solid fuel, textiles and even processed into a formidable building materials. All this plus most importantly it boasts to be a most effective sequester of CO2 and reducer of carbon in our environment, even more than the rain forest canopy.
    In the late 1800’s, the dominant industrial monopolists (including J.D Rockefeller) vowed to crush the small self sufficient homesteader and farmer, to train them into subservience and eventually criminalize Hemp production completely, just as petrochemicals we’re about to boom. The same fossil fuels megalomania mentality remains today the key problem. Total control.

  11. Fact Addict

    Let’s be honest: Marijuana prohibition has been, is, and always will be just a way to target minorities and get them incarcerated.

    Alcohol kills people, tobacco kills people, they’re totally legal. Does marijuana kill people?

    Marijuana is not a gateway drug to anything other than an unfortunate relationship with our crooked system of “justice”. It’s a distraction from the real problems our communities face with actual addiction. Stop the opiates at least, then talk about marijuana! How many times do you hear about someone overdosing on marijuana? Once you push out the illegal markets, at least kids will have to come up with a fake ID to buy it. Better that than alcohol, which is known to lead to fatal intoxication in young consumers. Weed is safer than alcohol.

    What’s the LD50 for marijuana?.. And ethanol? Get real. This is about social constructs, not safety.

  12. Fryd Piper

    The written history of marijuana is 6,000 (six thousand) years old! That’s even before the Torah, Hammurabi and the 2,000 Year Old Man (see Mel Brooks.)
    Marijuana is a gateway drug, though. It leads to hash, which is illegal in every country in the world, for some inexplicable reason? As for keif, that you can buy legally in the U.S. Good stuff.

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