As of October 5, medical marijuana patients and caregivers could legally grow and get by on their own supply in New York State. For those whose suffering and symptoms are ameliorated by the plant, this news is a huge relief. However, these new regulations can be confusing. There are many nuances to navigating your first cultivation cycle. We’re here to help.
Unfortunately, the state is fast earning a reputation for more heavily regulating marijuana than other jurisdictions do. Before you plant a seed, it’s best to get caught up on the confusing bundle of red tape attached to New York’s latest step towards full legalization.
First and foremost, recreational users are not yet allowed to cultivate their own plants. One must be officially recognized by the state as a qualifying patient or caregiver.
The good news here is in January of this year medical practitioners in New York were granted wide authority to prescribe medical marijuana for any condition they believe can be treated effectively with the plant. Previously, medical marijuana cardholders were limited to a relatively short list of conditions.
Today, an increasing number of surveys and studies are pointing toward marijuana’s efficacy in improving a wide range of physical and mental conditions.
For those who are licensed, there is a legal limit to the number and type of plants one can cultivate. Each patient or caregiver is allowed three immature and three mature plants. Immature plants are defined as those without flowering buds, mature plants as those with. The absolute maximum number of plants one is allowed to grow on one’s property is twelve, allowing for two licensed people to cultivate in one place.
Limitations are different for caregivers, who can grow up to twelve plants for up to four people, but only six if being grown for a single patient.
Furthermore, plants that are harvested and dried are counted in the total number of allowed plants. Since no one in their right mind would harvest or dry immature plants, this technically means once an individual harvests their three mature plants for consumption they must ensure the immature plants don’t mature before the harvested ones finish drying.
What constitutes possession?
As anyone who has grown weed will tell you, time-to-harvest can vary greatly, as can the length of the drying/curing process. The law is unclear on when “drying” turns into “possession.”
Each individual is limited to five pounds of “personal home-cultivated cannabis” in their residence, as per earlier regulations.
If you are unfamiliar with marijuana weights and measurements, five pounds of weed is a lot of weed. One ounce of weed is enough to make about 80 cigarette-sized joints. Five pounds would allow for smoking 17 such joints per day.
Of course, the image of the pot smoker is woefully outdated, as tinctures, edibles, and other forms of non-smoking consumption have risen dramatically over the years. These options are especially popular with medical users.
The formulation of these substances from a cultivated plant is actually quite straightforward, with many online guides on how to make them. Be aware that New York’s new regulations prohibit processing cannabis at home “by means of any liquid or gas other than alcohol that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.” Also be aware that New York is one of 13 states that currently outlaws 190-proof alcohol (often known as Everclear), so you may have to get inventive when creating your extracts.
The cavalcade of regulations marches on. There is language in the new law dictating that “reasonable measures must be taken” to secure the plants from access to anyone under the age of 21. These measures include (but are not limited to) making sure the cultivation area is enclosed, not plainly visible to the public, and locked, gated, or fenced in some way to deter outside access.
Interestingly, the law does include some stipulations for landlords, New York having learned from other states of the tension between the state legalizing medical marijuana while still illegal under federal law. A number of medical marijuana patients in other states have been told by landlords they cannot consume or grow cannabis in their rental properties.
New York’s law provides some language in their tenants’ favor. Renters are protected from being refused a lease or being penalized for medical marijuana consumption, and cannot be denied the right to consume for medical purposes even if the landlord has a smoke-free policy. Landlords who would “lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations” are exempt, however, and tenants can still be hit with charges for smoke-related property damage.
Those who wish to grow their own medical marijuana are encouraged to read the full text of the law to ensure they are in compliance.
Growing your own
Now that the regulations are out of the way, let’s get to the fun part: Growing your own.
A complete guide to growing your first plants is far outside the scope of this article, and besides, the Web is full of advice for your specific needs. A wealth of videos and articles are a Google search away.
In summary, marijuana is a relatively easy plant to grow (though it’s certainly not a weed if you’re using it for medical purposes). However, just as with any plant one harvests, there’s a huge difference between growing and thriving. You’ll need some knowledge, experience and equipment before you’re yielding the kinds of buds you see in professional cultivation houses.
A first-time grower should ask themselves a few basic questions to get started down the path of researching how to cultivate their own buds.
Where do I get seeds? Marijuana seed banks are the most popular option. There are vast catalogs of species to order online. Your biggest hurdle will be choosing between the many options. You might also ask around — seeds are not illegal to possess in New York as they contain no THC. If you’re looking to purchase from a medical pot dispensary, not all locations carry them, and it’s usually easier to order online anyway.
Where do I grow? Cannabis plants like a lot of light, especially during the vegetative stage. By far the cheapest, easiest option is to grow plants outside in a secure area with all-day sunlight coverage. When growing outdoors, be sure to choose a seed that grows well in New York’s climate.
Unfortunately, the outdoor growing season has just ended. The timing of the legalization of medical marijuana-growing in New York is unfortunate. Plants were being harvested just as the law was taking effect.
Luckily, if you’re willing to make a modest investment in equipment and do a bit of research, growing indoors under artificial lights offers many advantages. A much greater variety of strains will flourish, your plants are more secure. You don’t have to worry about weather, sunlight, or other factors that can mess up your harvest. Plus, you can grow year-round.
How long does it take from cultivation to consumption? Grow time will vary, but generally speaking it will be 16 to 24 weeks between planting a seed and enjoying your finished product. Germination should take less than a week, after which the plant is in a vegetative state for a month or two. Then the plants begin to flower, a process that takes eight to eleven weeks (varying by strain) and should result in roughly doubling their size.
Afterwards, plants are harvested and dried over several days, stems and leaves are trimmed (and saved to make extract), and then buds are jarred to ‘cure’ for one or more weeks to improve flavor and quality.
What do I need to grow? Besides seeds, you’ll need the right nutrients to keep your plants growing robustly. There are many options, from wholly organic to turbo-charged by science. A jeweler’s loupe comes in handy for inspecting tiny trichomes on (miniscule spheres that change appearance as a plant becomes ready to harvest) on buds and leaves.
If you’re growing indoors, there’s no end to how high-tech you can get. In addition to grow lights, you’ll want a fan to keep air circulating, and a hygrometer to measure humidity. Depending on the environment, you might also need a humidifier or dehumidifier.
All these tools come in handy during the drying process, which must be carefully monitored to avoid issues that could negatively affect the quality of your buds.
Dispensaries are coming
As medical patients and caregivers cheer this common-sense change in marijuana laws, recreational users will have to wait before they enjoy similar freedoms. Despite consumption and possession being decriminalized for all marijuana users, those without medical marijuana licenses will have to wait 18 months after the first recreational dispensary opens — something that’s predicted (but not guaranteed) to happen before the end of 2022.