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Suddenly, marijuana is legal

Marijuana legalization in New York creeped up slowly for many years, but it still felt distant. In the end, though, it happened very quickly.

Despite this news coming out in print on April 1, it is not an April Fool’s joke, even though it might feel like one.

Suddenly on Wednesday it became legal for an adult over 21 to possess up to three ounces of pot. That’s a lot — about three Ziploc bags full. It’s also legal to grow up to three marijuana plants at home (or a maximum of six for a household of two or more adults over 21). And New York is now the only state where it’s now legal to smoke weed in public, even while walking down the sidewalk.

Our world changed a lot, and fast. We have spent so long with marijuana being illegal that it is stunning to realize it isn’t anymore — in general, at least.

Of course, there are a whole lot of rules, which means pot is still illegal in many ways. You can’t use it if you’re under 21. You can’t sell it without a license, or grow more than a few plants. And much more.

We spent a while Wednesday reading through the law. It’s long, with lots of moving parts — not easy reading, but if you’re so inclined, you can do so at www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S854.

It will likely not be until next year when marijuana shops and lounges can open. There are a whole lot of licensing requirements, as you might imagine. How much will those businesses add to a community, and how much will they detract? We suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Local governments have until Dec. 31 to pass local laws blocking such businesses or limiting public marijuana use, although they can’t entirely ban recreational use of the drug.

It is still illegal to smoke or vape marijuana anywhere it’s illegal to smoke tobacco, such as bars, restaurants or within 100 feet of a school. Some local smoking bans will apply to pot as well, such as in village or city parks, but what about those where the law specifies tobacco? There may be a rush on new municipal no-smoking laws.

The tax revenue should be substantial, although it remains to be seen how much. The state will collect a 9% tax on pot, counties and municipalities will split a 4% tax, and there’s an extra tax for higher amounts of THC, the chemical in pot that gets people high.

Police can no longer use the smell of pot as an excuse to search someone’s car, and police drug-sniffing dogs may have to be retired and replaced with K-9s trained to sniff out other drugs but not marijuana.

It’s a lot to take in.

Keep in mind that our society already allows, within limits, alcohol, which despite its enjoyment (when used in moderation) is a highly addictive, potent intoxicant that leads to plenty of social disturbances and ruins countless lives. Detoxing from alcoholism is horrific and can be deadly. Marijuana is, in many ways, less dangerous.

Not that we are advocating for people to use marijuana, and we hope lawmakers will not be tempted to follow this with legalizing other drugs. However, we think our society can probably absorb marijuana’s legalization without too much trouble. We will find out.

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