ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR/PIX11) — With Cuomo having signed marijuana legalization, it goes into effect right away. But the state still needs to set up rules when it comes to the sale of marijuana. It could take up to two years for legal sales at recreational dispensaries.

Those 21 and older can use recreational marijuana legally. The bill vacates any charges associated with those former violations, and the state can expunge those criminal records immediately. Police won’t be able to arrest or prosecute adults carrying up to three ounces of cannabis and several more of concentrate. That’s a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.

Patients who want to grow medical marijuana at home can do so six months after the bill is enacted. Those planning to grow recreational marijuana can do so 18 months after the opening of the first dispensary, so as to allow the commercial sale of cannabis products to get set up. New Yorkers can grow up to six plants at home and up to 12 plants per household.

Other changes will be happening behind the scenes. The governor’s office will begin setting up a brand new Office of Cannabis Management. The state agency will oversee and write regulations, establish guidelines, and issue licenses for marijuana farming, processing, distribution, dispensaries, business licenses, and even retail consumption sites.

After years of work, many lawmakers are confident in the bill. “It was very sweet, because we got to a place where we can have a bill signed by the governor, but we have a better product today as far as the bill that we’re passing because we spent so many years working to improve it,” said Liz Krueger, a Democratic State Senator representing the Manhattan District. “Right now, I can say I feel confident that New York State passed a law which is the model the rest of the country should be following.”

Penalties still apply for people selling illegally, without a license. Cannabis products can be given away to others who meet the legal requirements, though. Even so, there are still several concerns from other politicians and officials. Opponents of legalization include law enforcement organizations and groups representing parents.

“We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the serious crisis of youth vaping and the continuing opioid epidemic, this harmful legislation is counterintuitive,” several organizations wrote in an open letter earlier this month.

The law also allows using cannabis in public spaces, though New Yorkers can’t smoke or vape marijuana in locations prohibited by state law, including workplaces, colleges and universities, hospitals, and within 100 feet of a school. You also won’t be able to use marijuana products at dispensaries, except for designated consumption sites. Think cigar lounge.

It’s still illegal to drive a vehicle under the influence of marijuana, and impaired driving remains a big issue for law-enforcement. “In every state where marijuana has been legalized, you’ve seen an increase of traffic accidents and traffic fatalities. It’s just fact,” said Patrick Phelan, from the New York State Association for Cheifs of Police.

New York officials plan to conduct a study that will examine the extent that cannabis impairs driving, and whether it depends on factors like time and metabolism.

The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court, and in schools, colleges, and universities, and sets a target of providing half of the marijuana licenses to individuals from underrepresented communities. The state will provide loans, grants, and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women, and disabled veterans.

The new law allows cities, towns, and villages to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, 2021, or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt out of legalization.

It’s estimated that marijuana sales could bring the state around $350 million in revenue each year. There’s a baseline sales tax of 9%, on top of other taxes based on the level of THC, plus an additional 4% to be split between the county and local government. 

Estimates by the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily show New York could become the largest on the East Coast—generating a potential $2.3 billion in annual sales by its fourth year.

New York is the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana.