In the last few weeks, three US states have legalised cannabis for recreational purposes, all via the legislature and not via public ballots. New York, Virginia and New Mexico will begin by permitting cannabis use in private and home cultivation, for adults aged over 21 (out of sight and away from children). The intention is to introduce commercial markets in the coming years, after detailed regulatory requirements are agreed.

For these three states, there is more emphasis on social justice than in previous legalisation frameworks in the United States. All three have agreed to automatic removal of minor cannabis convictions from the records of previous offenders, and New York and Virginia have established funds to support individuals and communities who were previously disadvantaged by drug law enforcement.

The laws of New York and New Mexico also contain two specific aspects. The first is to provide for the establishment of specific consumption areas, such as cafes; these areas allow consumption by people who are not permitted to consume in their rented accommodation (tenancy agreements usually prohibit drug use) and who cannot find space to legally consume in public. The second is to allow for delivery to consumers, perhaps reflecting the post-COVID retail world. New York State has also introduced taxation that is dependent on THC content and product type, permitting the state to regulate different types of product according to their effects on health.

Key aspects of state legislation

State (population) New York (19 million) Virginia (8.6 million) New Mexico (2 million)
Title Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (Senate Bill no. 1406) Cannabis Regulation Act
Date approved Governor signed 31 March 2021 Geenral Assembly approved on 7 April 2021 Governor signed 12 April 2021
Supervisoty authority Office of Cannabis Management, within the division of Alcohol Beverage Control Virginia Cannabis Control Authority Cannabis Control Division within the state’s Regulatory and Licensing Department
Personal possession limit 85 g of herbal cannabis or 24 g of concentrates such as resin 28 g of herbal cannabis ‘or equivalent’ 57 g of cannabis, 16 g of concentrates and 800 mg of edibles
Personal possession allowed from 31 March 2021 1 July 2021 29 June 2021
Home grow limit Up to 6 cannabis plants (3 mature, 3 immature) per person or 12 per household 4 plants per household, labelled with the grower’s identification details 6 mature plants per person, or 12 per household
Commercial retail starts 1-2 years needed to draft regulations 1 January 2024 (if law re-enacted in 2022) No later than 1 April, 2022
Taxation rates Retail: 13 %, comprising 9 % state tax and 4 % local tax. Wholesale tax on THC content: 0.5 cents/mg for herbal cannabis, 0.8 cents/mg for concentrates, and 3 cents/mg for edibles 21 % excise tax plus a possible 3 % local tax 12 % excise tax, rising 1 % per year to 18 % over the period 2025-2030, on top of sales tax (5-9 %)
Revenue distribution Training for law enforcement to detect drugged driving. Then 40 % to communities affected by drugs, 40 % to public education, and 20 % to drug treatment and prevention programmes 40 % to pre-kindergarten programmes for at-risk children, 30 % to the equity fund, 25 % to local treatment and prevention, 5 % to public health programmes Not specified