Two years ago, New York made history by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). This comprehensive legislation not only legalized cannabis for adult use, changed the cannabis media landscape, and had a positive effect on many NYC small businesses, but also placed a specific focus on social justice and equity. As we celebrate the second anniversary of this landmark bill, it's essential to take a step back and highlight everything New Yorkers need to know about the MRTA and the current status of legalization.
What is the MRTA and what does it do?
The MRTA is the comprehensive legislation passed in New York two years ago that legalizes cannabis for adult use. In addition to legalizing cannabis, the MRTA also focuses on social justice and equity by creating opportunities for individuals disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
What are the rules around cannabis consumption and possession?
Under the MRTA, adults aged 21 years and older are permitted to possess and consume cannabis products in New York State. The law allows individuals to possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis products for personal use.
Individuals are also permitted to cultivate up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants for personal use, as long as they are out of public view. However, there are certain restrictions on where cannabis can be consumed. It is illegal to smoke or consume cannabis in public places, on school grounds, or in any motor vehicle.
Additionally, landlords are permitted to prohibit cannabis consumption on their properties, and employers are permitted to enforce drug-free workplace policies that prohibit the use of cannabis by employees.
It is important to note that even though cannabis is legal for adult use in New York, it is still illegal to possess or consume cannabis products if you are under the age of 21. It is also illegal to possess cannabis on federal land, which includes national parks and forests within the state.
Is it still illegal to distribute or sell cannabis?
In New York State, it is legal for licensed businesses to cultivate, process, distribute, and sell cannabis products under the regulatory framework established by the MRTA.
However, it is still illegal to distribute or sell cannabis without the appropriate license. Individuals who sell cannabis without a license can face criminal charges and penalties under New York State law.
The MRTA creates a system for licensed businesses to participate in the legal cannabis industry and establishes guidelines for the distribution and sale of cannabis products. This includes regulations for product safety, packaging and labeling, and advertising and marketing.
It is important to note that while the MRTA legalizes cannabis for adult use in New York, it does not change federal law, which still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that possession, distribution, and sale of cannabis products remains illegal under federal law.
Can I smoke cannabis in my car?
It is illegal to smoke or consume cannabis in any form while driving a vehicle or while riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle in New York State. This is specified in the MRTA and violators may face criminal charges and penalties.
The law prohibits smoking cannabis in any public place, which includes parks, sidewalks, and streets. Smoking cannabis is also prohibited in the workplace, including vehicles used for work.
It is important to note that smoking cannabis in a vehicle can impair driving ability and increase the risk of accidents. In addition to the legal penalties, individuals who smoke cannabis in a vehicle may face additional charges if their actions result in an accident or injury.
It is recommended to consume cannabis products in a private and safe location.
Did the MRTA change the medical cannabis program at all?
Yes, the MRTA did make some changes to the medical cannabis program in New York State. Under the MRTA, the list of qualifying medical conditions for the medical cannabis program was expanded to include additional conditions such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This change allows more patients to access medical cannabis for treatment of their conditions.
Additionally, the MRTA established a separate license for medical cannabis businesses, allowing for greater differentiation between the adult-use and medical cannabis markets. The legislation also removed certain restrictions on medical cannabis products, such as the ban on smoking medical cannabis, which previously required patients to vaporize or ingest cannabis products in other forms.
Does the MRTA allow for the expungement of past cannabis related convictions?
Yes, the MRTA included provisions for the expungement of certain past cannabis-related convictions. Under the MRTA, individuals with previous convictions for offenses that are no longer criminalized or are now legal under the law can apply to have their records expunged. This includes convictions for possession of up to three ounces of cannabis, as well as possession of cannabis paraphernalia.
The expungement process is not automatic and individuals must apply to have their records expunged. The MRTA requires the New York State Office of Court Administration to create a process for individuals to apply for expungement, and the process is expected to begin by the end of 2022.
Expungement of past cannabis-related convictions can provide relief for individuals who have been impacted by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws in the past. It can also remove barriers to employment, housing, and other opportunities that can arise from having a criminal record.
What is the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the new cannabis industry?
The new cannabis industry in New York State is regulated by the New York State Cannabis Control Board (CCB), which is the primary regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of cannabis products.
The CCB is a five-member board appointed by the Governor of New York, and includes a Chairperson and two members with expertise in the cannabis industry, social justice, and public health.
The CCB is responsible for establishing and enforcing regulations related to cannabis licensing, product safety, advertising and marketing, and other aspects of the industry. The Board is also responsible for overseeing the establishment of a social equity program, which aims to promote equitable participation in the industry for individuals and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis laws in the past.
The CCB is supported by the New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which provides administrative and technical support to the Board and is responsible for implementing the policies and regulations established by the Board.
Who are the regulators?
The regulators of the new cannabis industry in New York State are the members of the CCB.
As of March 2023, the CCB includes the following individuals:
- Tremaine Wright, Chair
- Adam Perry
- Reuben R. McDaniel III
- Jessica Garcia
- Dr. Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins
The Executive Director of the OCM is Christopher Alexander, who previously served as the Director of Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that advocates for drug policy reform.
What are the existing licensing classes currently?
The MRTA provides for several different licensing categories for the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of cannabis products in New York State. These categories are designed to promote competition and diversity in the industry and to provide opportunities for small businesses and individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis laws in the past.
As of March 2023, the existing licensing classes under the MRTA include:
- Cultivator License: Allows for the growing and harvesting of cannabis plants for sale to licensed processors, distributors, or retail dispensaries.
- Processor License: Allows for the processing and manufacturing of cannabis products, including extraction, infusion, and packaging of cannabis products for sale to licensed distributors or retail dispensaries.
- Distributor License: Allows for the distribution and transportation of cannabis products between licensed cultivators, processors, and retail dispensaries.
- Retail Dispensary License: Allows for the sale and delivery of cannabis products directly to consumers.
- Cooperative License: Allows for the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of cannabis products by a group of individuals who have formed a cooperative.
- Microbusiness License: Allows for the cultivation, processing, and sale of cannabis products by small businesses that meet certain size and ownership requirements.
- Nursery License: Allows for the cultivation and sale of cannabis plants to other licensed cultivators.
In addition to these licensing categories, the MRTA also allows for licensing categories for certain specialized activities, such as on-site consumption, delivery services, and consumption lounges. These categories are expected to be established by the Cannabis Control Board in the future.
The MRTA focuses a great deal on social equity. What is the fund supposed to do and how is it helping people who were impacted by the war on drugs?
The MRTA includes provisions that aim to address the harms caused by the war on drugs and promote social equity in the cannabis industry. One of the key ways that the MRTA does this is through the establishment of the Cannabis Social Equity Fund.
The Cannabis Social Equity Fund is a dedicated fund that is intended to provide resources and support to individuals and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis laws in the past. The fund is financed through a portion of the tax revenue generated by the legal cannabis industry, and is expected to provide grants, loans, and other forms of assistance to eligible individuals and organizations.
Specifically, the Cannabis Social Equity Fund is intended to support the following activities:
- Job training and workforce development programs for individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
- Small business development and technical assistance programs for individuals and businesses from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
- Community reinvestment programs that support education, healthcare, affordable housing, and other initiatives that benefit individuals and communities impacted by the war on drugs.
- Expungement and other legal services for individuals with past cannabis-related convictions.
- Substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for individuals and communities impacted by the war on drugs.
The Cannabis Social Equity Fund is a critical component of the MRTA's efforts to promote social equity and justice in the cannabis industry. By providing resources and support to individuals and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, the fund aims to ensure that the benefits of the legal cannabis industry are shared more equitably and that the harms caused by past enforcement practices are addressed.