State of Cannabis: A Moderate New York State of Mind

New York and MarijuanaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 24: New York.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

New York

Criminal Penalties. New York punishes unlawful possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana with a maximum fine of $100 and no jail time. However, if a person has committed a marijuana offense in the previous three years, the fine increases to $200.  If the person committed two or more offenses during that time period, he or she may also have to serve a 15-day jail sentence. Possession offenses involving larger amounts are punished as follows:

  • 25 grams to 2 ounces earns a maximum fine of $500 and up to 3 months imprisonment.
  • 2-8 ounces earns a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 1 year imprisonment
  • 8-16 ounces earns a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 4 years imprisonment.
  • 16 ounces to 10 pound earns a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 7 years imprisonment.
  • Over 10 pounds earns a maximum fine of $15,000 and up to 15 years imprisonment.

New York has fairly lenient penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, but punishes the sale of marijuana more harshly. The exchange without payment of less than 2 grams of marijuana or one joint earns up to 3 months imprisonment. A person who sells less than 25 grams of marijuana faces up to one year imprisonment and a maximum $1,000 fine. The sale of between 25 grams and 4 ounces is punishable by up to 4 years imprisonment and a maximum $5,000 fine. The sale of 4-16 ounces earns up to 7 years imprisonment and a maximum $5,000 fine. A person who sells more than 16 ounces of marijuana faces a 15-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $15,000. The sale of any amount of marijuana to a person under 18 earns up to 7 years imprisonment and a maximum $5,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana. New York recently legalized medical marijuana with the Compassionate Care Act. The State’s program allows patients suffering from serious medical conditions to obtain a certification from physicians to receive medical marijuana. Qualifying conditions include: cancer, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. The Department of Health (DOH) may also add qualifying conditions.

A physician must complete a four-hour DOH-approved course and register with the DOH to be able to certify patients. In turn, patients or their caregivers must apply to the DOH to obtain a registry identification card. The DOH licensed five organizations to manufacture and dispense medical marijuana products. For more information on the licensing requirements see New York Cannabis Licensing: The Basics. Medical marijuana products in New York are limited to liquid and oil preparations. This includes products to be used in vaporizers and capsules. Smoking marijuana is still prohibited in New York, even for medical uses.

New York’s medical marijuana program has been widely criticized and rightly so. An article by Vice News, published shortly after the Compassionate Care Act was enacted, chronicles some of the concerns of medical marijuana advocates and patients. First, the Act severely limits access to marijuana. The fact that only five entities are tasked with providing the second largest state in the country with cannabis presents obvious logistical problems. Second, patients and doctors are concerned that the limited means of ingestion limit the efficacy of medical marijuana. The article cites a letter from the New York Physicians for Compassionate Care stressing that “numerous scientific studies have shown that smoking cannabis is generally safe and can be beneficial in some cases.” That same letter expressed concerns that tinctures and extracts generally contain higher levels of THC which may prove too potent for some patients. Finally, advocates are worried that New York’s national influence will cause other states to adopt similarly restrictive medical regimes. Though legalization in New York is obviously progress, it may ultimately complicate the national movement to legalize medical cannabis.

Bottomline. New York has a mix of lenient and harsh criminal penalties. The laws on possession are pretty good, especially considering that small amounts do not generally warrant jail time. The laws on the sale of marijuana are fairly harsh. The state’s medical marijuana program leaves much to be desired. However, New York does deserve credit for implementing something. Hopefully the Empire State can continue to reform its laws and wield its major national influence to positively impact the legalization movement. But until it loosens up on both the medical and the recreational side, New York will remain mired in the middle in our state cannabis rankings.

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