New York Goes Legal, What Next?

This piece was originally written for Volteface

New York has officially legalised adult-use cannabis, becoming the 16th state in the USA to do so. It is predicted to be the largest market on the East Coast generating $2.5 billion in annual sales by its fourth year and approximately $300 million collected in tax revenue.

New Yorkers can now possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis. The bill also immediately allows for cannabis consumption in public places, except for workplaces, universities, schools and hospitals.

The state is to begin expunging criminal records of past cannabis related convictions. The existing medical cannabis programmes are to be expanded. Legislation will also provide protection for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court and schools.

However, sales of adult-use cannabis will not be legal for approximately another 18 months until regulations are drawn up.

New York is heavily focused on reinvestment in communities with a social and economic equity programme to be put in place for groups disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition to be able to participate in the industry. This has been a key aspect of the sensible and just reform in the US recently.

These measures will hopefully address some of the inequalities in a system that have disproportionately impacted people of colour for cannabis offences. The gold standard for cannabis reform is reinvesting in communities, social equity and justice at the centre of legislation.

This angle hopes to address the harms caused by prohibition along with a lack of diversity currently in the cannabis industry.

With New York giving the green light to cannabis, what does this mean in practice for US reform? What can we expect next?

New York is a key state with a large population, likely to have a significant domino effect on legalisation across the rest of the US and potentially even Europe.

A legal adult-use market will undoubtedly have a positive impact for jobs creation in cannabis and ancillary sectors.

There are concerns over what regulation will look like in New York, as this is yet to be confirmed. The main concern being — what will this reform do to outperform the illicit market?

High prices for cannabis products is likely to be introduced at the start, though this could be a driving factor for consumers to continue buying from the illicit market.

Certain states like Florida have discussed having a THC cap on products. Though the reasoning behind this is in the interests of public health and safety, it is likely to drive consumers to the illicit market to access high THC cannabis.

The successful reduction of the illicit market in New York will depend heavily on the regulations that are put in place; going lighter on regulation could be a means of allowing the legal market to flourish.

In practice, New York legalising is likely to mean more states going legal. The US stands in an incredibly interesting position for reform. There is certainly a contrast of progressive state-by-state reform and a growing industry. However, cannabis very much remains illegal at a federal level.

Though in many respects the federal system is backward, it has been an excellent way of seeing incremental reform happen. A state-by-state revolution has been influential in the reform space and in the grand scheme of things, change has been happening very fast.

If it wasn’t for individual states legalising, cannabis reform would be incredibly challenging. New York being such a large and influential state, legalising is another domino toward the inevitable federal legalisation. We already have more legal markets to be introduced with New Mexico now set to legalise adult use.

The US will soon get to a point where more states are legal than illegal. In a very short amount of time the country has gone to 9 out of 10 Americans living in a state where cannabis is accessible in some legal form — a sign of immense progress.

The road to federal legalisation will be bumpy and it will take time to see a unified approach to cannabis policy. However, the sector can expect the rest of 2021 to be a big year for US cannabis reform.

University of Bath MSc Health Psychology graduate. Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Volteface. Interested in addiction and drug reform.

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