If you are travelling to New York it may help to understand the current state of the law with regard to cannabis. Medical cannabis was legalized in New York State in 2016. At first, the program was very restrictive, with the state limiting the number of dispensary licenses it granted and the list of qualifying conditions very severe. Since then the state has loosened up, and it’s current medical program is proving to be a success. In fact, earlier this year the state expanded the conditions to allow patients who have been prescribed opioid painkillers to seek medical cannabis as an alternative.
In August Governor Andrew Cuomo created a state panel charged with coming up with a plan for to allow for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York state. Many believe that legalization is inevitable, and it could happen as early as January of 2019, which is when the vote on the new bill will occur. One thing that has many legislators in favor of this is the potential economic impact. According to the Health Department report, retail sales and taxation of marijuana could generate between $248 million and $677 million annually.
However, the fact remains that recreational use in New York state is still illegal. But in New York City the cops are now handing out tickets to those caught smoking pot on the streets (instead of arresting the would be offenders, which is what used to happen). This change was initiated by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it may be reflective of a general tolerance toward marijuana in the city. It was also driven by common sense, as the city began to realize that the man hours and work effort required to arrest, process and try people for these relatively minor offenses was not efficient.
In terms of those travelling to New York City who qualify for medical marijuana, they can visit one of the city’s five medical dispensaries (there are only 21 or so in the state at the moment). Technically speaking medical marijuana in New York state cannot be smoked (as out of a bong or a joint). But you are allowed to use a vaporizer (though not in public). It’s unclear how this would ever be enforced, assuming you are using the marijuana behind closed doors. But these are the current laws.
In sum, while it appears that the laws are likely to change in New York state (and New York City), cannabis is still illegal in New York. If you happen to be caught in Times Square smoking or vaping you are likely to be fined and given a ticket, but you won’t be arrested. We’d still recommend erring on the side of caution, but things are definitely changing for the better in New York City.