NEW YORK — New Yorkers who have been waiting years for marijuana legalization in the state will face another test of their patience as lawmakers begin the arduous work of setting up the infrastructure of a new regulated market within the confines of social justice and safety measures baked into the law.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law on Wednesday, the state needs time to establish regulations as well as a cannabis board that will oversee the recreational market.
Additionally, there’s a provision in the law that allows cities, towns and villages to opt out of allowing retail sales in their area. Local governments have nine months to make that decision.
The law allows recreational sales of marijuana to begin April 1, 2022, however, lawmakers have warned it may take longer to bring the market to scale.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who co-sponsored the legislation, estimated it could take 18 months to two years for legal sales to begin.
A spokesperson for State Sen. Liz Krueger, another bill co-sponsor, hedged the time frame slightly, suggesting New Yorkers could see retail sales next year.
Krueger said the road to legalizing marijuana has been long, but will be worth the wait.
“I 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,” the senator said on Tuesday. “The bill we have held out for will create a nation-leading model for legalization.”
Opening new recreational marijuana dispensaries for adult use will largely depend on how quickly the state can set up the Office of Cannabis Management, a five-person panel appointed by the governor and state Legislature.
The OCM will operate as an independent office under the New York State Liquor Authority and is tasked with implementing and enforcing regulations governing medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp.
The cannabis board will also need time to solicit, process and grant licenses to marijuana providers and distributors based on a range of metrics, including social equity status and fair labor practices.
While New Yorkers wait for this new industry to blossom, Adam Goers, the SVP of Corporate Affairs at Columbia Care, pointed out that anyone 21 and older can legally access marijuana in other ways.
“I think it’s important to remind New Yorkers that there are cannabis dispensaries operating throughout the state and those are medical cannabis dispensaries that will eventually also serve adult-use customers as well,” Goers said.
Columbia Care was one of the first medical marijuana providers in the country and is a licensed medical marijuana provider in New York, with dispensaries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Riverhead and Rochester.
In addition to legalizing adult recreational use, the new law expanded the list of medical conditions included in the state’s medical marijuana program.
“So for many New Yorkers, go visit your physician,” Goers said. “And there’s nothing to stop you from coming to a Columbia care dispensary soon to help treat one of those conditions.”
Goers said while the state may not be 100% ready by April 1, 2022, he’s optimistic that legal marijuana will be accessible to the public if they know where to look.
“We know that companies like Columbia Care are getting ready right now. So I’m optimistic that, if not on April 1 of next year, soon afterward you’re going to find adult-use cannabis sales at a Columbia Care dispensary or one of the other medical operators or one of the massive numbers of social equity dispensaries that are going to be coming online soon,” he added.
In the meantime, anyone 21 years and older can smoke or otherwise consume marijuana without fear of arrest or prosecution. Additionally, penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis were eliminated.
The bill also automatically expunged records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that are no longer illegal. Court offices have up to two years to make sure this process is completed.