Marijuana Reform in New York

The movement to legalize marijuana is rooted in the racist history of the war on drugs. While marijuana consumption and sales occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Brown people are arrested for possessing marijuana at vastly disproportionate rates.

Marijuana arrests hinder people’s ability to succeed and participate in society by preventing them from obtaining employment, housing, and student loans. Decades of these racially discriminatory arrests have devastated Black and Latinx communities in New York while leaving thousands of people stigmatized with criminal records.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has worked to end these racially biased marijuana arrests and in March 2021, New York enacted one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the country.

Ending Marijuana Prohibition with Start SMART NY

New York’s marijuana policies have been a profound and costly failure. DPA created the Start SMART NY – Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade – campaign in partnership with groups dedicated to ending the ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition and create in its place a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in racial and economic justice.

Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, speaking at the Start SMART campaign launch.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)

DPA and our allies in the Start SMART NY campaign helped to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). This allows the responsible use of marijuana by adults 21 and over within a tightly regulated system. 

Smart regulation can support community well-being and safety while building a diverse, socially equitable industry that strengthens all parts of our state.

What Does the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.854-a/A.1248-a) Do?

  • Allows the use of marijuana by adults over 21; automatically expunges records for prior criminalization
  • Improves the medical marijuana program and expands hemp/CBD farming program
  • Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board to regulate all aspects of cannabis in New York

New York’s legalization centers racial and economic justice by:

  • Addressing devastating impacts of marijuana prohibition in the fields of immigration, housing, employment, child welfare, and other consequences of criminalization.
  • Establishing an equitable and diverse industry, including having a social equity licensing program supporting directly impacted people, farmers, and small businesses, plus an incubator program to provide low- and zero-interest loans, technical assistance, and legal counsel
  • Using revenue from marijuana legalization for restitution to communities that have been most impacted by criminalization

It is now legal for adults 21 and over in New York to:

  • Possess 3 ounces or less of marijuana in a public place
  • Possess higher amounts of marijuana if prescribed by a doctor
  • Give lawful amounts of marijuana to other people 21 and over as long as no compensation is exchanged

Learn more about New York's legalization program from Start SMART NY.

Ensuring Safe Access to Medical Marijuana

In 2016, New York became the 23rd state to roll out its medical marijuana program. But this is not enough. Patients still struggle to gain access to their medication. The law has been criticized as being one of the most restrictive and burdensome programs in the country.

DPA is dedicated to improving legal access to medical marijuana for patients with chronic and debilitating illnesses in New York State. In 2016, we successfully amended regulations, which now allow nurse practitioners and physician's assistants to certify patients for medical marijuana. We also advocated for chronic pain to be added as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana – a huge victory for patients and boost for the program.

MRTA improves the medical marijuana program by expanding the forms of cannabis available in the program, increasing the qualifying conditions, and much more.

Marijuana Legalization and Regulation
Medical Marijuana