New York state’s history with marijuana dates back to the 1800s. Marijuana was legal when it first appeared in New York, but since then there have been several changes in marijuana’s legal status. Let’s take a look at the many facets of the law regarding marijuana in New York.
The first mention of marijuana in the media in New York was in 1857 when a letter was published in the press about it. The next mention was in the New York Times in 1901, which talked about how marijuana looked harmless and caused users to be in a frenzy.
In 1906 Congress approved The Food and Drug Act, which allowed citizens of New York to have a prescription for marijuana. This was the first instance of medical marijuana in the state as well as the first legal standpoint. Further clarifying this issue was an amendment to the Boylan Bill in 1914.
The New York Times reported in July of 1927 that an entire family was harmed by ingesting marijuana plants. Following those reports, marijuana was banned in any form throughout the whole state. After the ban on marijuana, a doctor at a prison in New York asked for treatment for those arrested for possession, not incarceration. At this time, there were a lot of jazz musicians being caught with the drug, because they liked to use marijuana before playing a gig.
1939 Effect of Marijuana In The Community
The current mayor in 1939, Fiorelli LaGuardia, put together a committee called the LaGuardia Committee. The purpose of the LaGuardia committee was to determine the effect of marijuana in the community. The LaGuardia committee released their report in 1944, stating that the thought of marijuana being a gateway drug was mostly incorrect and that marijuana was not associated with addiction. They also found that the use of marijuana did not cause people to be violent or murderous. Instead, they found that marijuana made people talkative and reflective, sometimes making them seem more philosophical than they were usually. The commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, Harry Anslinger, was very angry about the report and said it was false.
In Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx in 1950, there was said to be marijuana plants growing as tall as Christmas trees. Soon after that, in 1951, the city of New York made a significant effort to get rid of all of the marijuana plants and confiscated as much as 41,000 pounds of marijuana.
Allen Ginsberg headed the very first pro-pot march in 1965. The walk took place in front of the New York Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village.
Rockefeller Marijuana Law
In 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws came into effect. Named after the current governor of New York, the laws described the stricter penalties for selling two ounces or more of several different substances, including marijuana. These more stringent penalties included a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Then, in 1977, New York decriminalized the possession of marijuana in quantities of 25 grams or less. Instead of that amount being criminal possession, it was decreased to an infraction that included a fine of $100. This did not include possession while in the public view, which could be used as a loophole to charge any possession as a misdemeanor.
Because marijuana was not yet legal in the 1980s, there was an underground movement, called Green Aid, which provided marijuana to AIDS patients for pain relief and to help with the side effects of treatment.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani spearheaded an effort to contain the use of illegal marijuana in the 1990s, including the process of stop-and-frisk.
In 2014, the mayor of New York made some changes to address the arrests for marijuana possession that continued to happen. Bill de Blasio had the police stop arresting for possession of marijuana and issue tickets instead. This was for when the amount of possession was small. Even with these instructions, arrests were back up two years later.
Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in New York State 2019
In 2015, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo approved legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The legislation would take effect within 18 months and establish a program to provide medical marijuana to patients as long it was not the inhaled form. This was done after a very long and heated debate in the Senate and passage of 49-10 in the Senate. Also included in the legislation was how many marijuana licenses would be provided. Five marijuana licenses were granted, each being allowed to operate four dispensaries.
Most recently, in 2018, Governor Cuomo asked the New York Legislature to pay for a study by the Department of Health regarding the use of recreational marijuana. This study would look at the social, economic and legal consequences of the legalization of recreational marijuana. The study has been completed and recommends the legalization of recreational marijuana.
At the same time that Governor Cuomo is looking at whether it will be beneficial to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, the mayor of New York City has landed on the opposite side of the issue. Bill de Blasio believes that it will be detrimental to the youth of New York to legalize recreational marijuana. He thinks that marijuana could follow the same path that tobacco did, being marketed to be attractive to a younger audience. This would have kids hooked to the substance for a long period and be more profitable to the industry.
Cynthia Nixon, an actress, best known for her role in Sex in the City, had statewide legalization as part of her platform during her bid for the Democratic candidate for governor. While her proposal failed for other reasons, many New Yorkers aligned with her stance on the full legalization of marijuana.
As it stands now, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance in New York. Schedule I means it is considered to have no recognized medical value and is at risk for dependence. Medical marijuana use is allowed, although it is restricted to a total of 20 dispensaries in the state. These dispensaries are only allowed to sell the non-smoking types of marijuana like edibles. In order to buy medical marijuana, you need to become a medical marijuana patient and obtain a medical marijuana card from an NYS licensed marijuana doctor.