Cannabis: Green Gold Mine or Divisive Drug?

Cannabis in glass jar on desk.

On March 31, 2021, New York became the fifteenth state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. Recreational marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts  for several years and New Jersey recently enacted legislation making it legal there as well. Part of the impetus for legalizing cannabis in New York was a concern that residents would simply purchase their cannabis from neighboring states, with New York thus losing out on substantial marijuana tax revenue.

From The Governor’s Office

According to Governor Cuomo’s Office, the recreational marijuana industry could be worth an estimated $350 million in annual New York State tax revenue alone.  Under the legislation, the tax rate on cannabis will be 13%. Of that 13%,  9% will accrue to the State, and 4% will go to local governments.

The New York State marijuana legislation contains provisions allowing municipalities to opt out of having retail dispensaries located within their bounds. Any municipalities that wish to opt out must pass a local cannabis law on or before December 31, 2021.  Municipalities that choose to opt out will not share in the cannabis tax revenue from the industry.

Municipalities Have a Choice

Municipalities that choose to allow retail marijuana dispensaries are still able to exercise some control over locations within the municipality where dispensaries will be permitted. On top of that, the licensing procedures by the New York State Office of Cannabis Management set forth additional restrictions, like those imposed on retail liquor stores. No license will be granted for a cannabis dispensary where the proposed premises would be located within 500 feet of a school or within 200 feet of a house of worship, and applicants must provide documentation showing that their premises meet these requirements.

Many municipalities are now grappling with the decision of whether or not to allow retail dispensaries. The City of Albany has already said that it will be opting in and is now working on determining specific areas of the City where marijuana dispensaries will be allowed.

Given the intensely regulated licensing process, as well as the substantial tax benefits, it seems that most municipalities should opt to allow marijuana dispensaries, at least in some limited areas. If, however, a given municipality opts out, local residents can put together a petition, and attempt to force a referendum on the local law.

Take Action

If you are considering applying for a marijuana dispensary license in New York State, please contact Alexandra B. Becker, Esq. by e-mail ( or phone (518.432.3188) for a no-cost consultation to see how the attorneys at Nolan Heller Kauffman may be able to assist.