“Happy quarantine!” the man greets the cops as he inhales and exhales.
New York adults over the age of 21 can now possess and use marijuana — even in public — under a legalization bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though legal sales of recreational-use cannabis won’t start for an estimated 18 months until regulations are set.
Passed after several years of stalled efforts, the measure makes New York the 16th state in the nation to legalize adult use of the drug.
New York becomes the second-most populous state after California to legalize recreational marijuana.
Legalization backers hope the Empire State will add momentum and set an example with its efforts to redress the inequities of a system that has locked up people of color for marijuana offenses at disproportionate rates.
The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court, schools, colleges and universities, and sets a target of providing half of marijuana licenses to individuals from underrepresented communities. And police could no longer use the odor of cannabis as a reason for searching someone’s car for contraband.
New York will start automatically expunging some past marijuana-related convictions, and people won’t be arrested or prosecuted for possession of pot up to 3 ounces. A 2019 law already expunged many past convictions and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.
In a unique provision, New Yorkers 21 and over can now smoke cannabis in public, including on sidewalks.
No other state allows that, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of pro-legalization group NORML.
Still, New Yorkers can’t smoke or vape marijuana in locations where smoking is prohibited by state law, including workplaces, indoor bars and restaurants and within 100 feet of a school. And stricter local smoking rules apply: New York City bans smoking in parks and on beaches, for instance.
Local governments can pass stricter rules on marijuana use, prohibit retail dispensaries or cannabis lounges, and impose small civil penalties — as long as they don’t “completely or essentially prohibit a person” from lawful marijuana use.
The trade publication Marijuana Business Daily estimates New York could become the East Coast’s largest recreational marijuana market — generating a potential $2.3 billion in annual sales by its fourth year.
Cuomo, the embattled Democrat, said annual tax revenues could eventually total $300 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.