New York just cemented its status as the cannabis tourism capital of the world. New York City has always been a hub for tourists because it is at the center of American culture, entertainment, finance, and politics. With the recent passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), New York City is now poised to become America’s answer to Amsterdam, the European city that has long permitted the consumption of cannabis at its famed cafes.

The MRTA makes it legal for adults (over the age of 21) to smoke cannabis anywhere that tobacco can be legally smoked in New York and creates a license for adult-use consumption sites. In New York, you can legally smoke cannabis in public and once the MRTA is fully implemented, you will be able to visit what essentially sounds like a cannabis cafe. In the near future, Americans will be able to legally enjoy that cannabis café experience without having to pack their passports and fly to Amsterdam.

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While the MRTA allows cannabis to be smoked or vaped anywhere that smoking tobacco is permitted, state agencies and localities can impose stricter regulations. This means that under New York state law, cannabis can be smoked in hotel or motel rooms, outdoor dining areas, and adult-use on-site clubs, and anywhere else where smoking tobacco is legal. Smoking cannabis is not permitted anywhere that tobacco is prohibited. Cannabis also cannot be smoked at a school. The MRTA creates a license type called an adult-use on-site consumption license. These licenses will allow for the sale and consumption of cannabis. These lounge-like locations will allow people to buy and use cannabis on site.


Tourists visiting New York will have legal avenues to consume cannabis. Compare that to one of the first two states to legalize adult-use cannabis, Washington. Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana by passing Initiative 502 (I-502) in 2012. I-502 made it “unlawful to open a package containing marijuana, useable marijuana, or a marijuana-infused product, or consume marijuana, useable marijuana, or a marijuana infused product, in view of the general public.” In 2015, three years in to Washington’s experiment with legal cannabis, lawmakers passed a comprehensive bill to unify the state’s medical and recreational market. Included in that bill was an amendment that made it illegal to conduct or maintain a marijuana club. In Washington, it is a Class C felony to maintain a premises for the “primary or incidental purpose of providing a location” where people can keep or consume marijuana on the premises, “for profit or otherwise.” (RCW 69.50.465.)

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If a tourist flies to Seattle to try Washington cannabis products, she may not have a legal place to consume marijuana. If she’s staying in hotel, the hotel staff could face felony charges by allowing her to consume marijuana in her room.

The same would be true of any vacation rental host, such as those who list their space on AirBNB, as it’s a felony to allow the use of marijuana on premise, even if such consumption is “incidental” to the primary purpose of renting space out for travel purposes. The person visiting Seattle also would not be able to legally consume cannabis in public. Unless our tourist was staying in a private residence, like a friend’s house, and the owner of that residence allowed the consumption of marijuana on site, she would have no legal way to consume the cannabis that she legally purchased under Washington State law.

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Now imagine that the same tourist visited New York City after the MRTA program is up and running (it will likely be about two years before rules are drafted and licenses are issued). She can smoke cannabis in public anywhere that tobacco can be smoked. She can go to a cannabis lounge where she can buy and use marijuana on site. She can find a hotel that allows her to smoke in her room. She can both legally buy and consume adult-use cannabis on her vacation.

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It pains me to say this as a life-long Washingtonian, but the Evergreen State has really dropped the ball on cannabis tourism. While other states and jurisdictions may have done better than Washington when it comes to cannabis tourism (I am looking at you Denver), New York State just blew away the competition by allowing the public consumption of cannabis and creating a legal framework for cannabis consumption sites.

New York has always been able to draw-in tourists, so it’s not as if cannabis is going to “put New York on the map.” However, New York’s cannabis laws are truly groundbreaking in the sense that the MRTA explicitly provides for legal consumption. Cannabis prohibition is often compared to alcohol prohibition, so viewed through that lens, this is like if New York legalized bars in the 1920s while other states only legalized the sale of liquor.

I hope that other states will learn from New York’s public consumption model. In the meantime, I know where I’ll be planning my next vacation.

Daniel Shortt is a corporate and regulatory attorney based in Seattle, Washington who works extensively with entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. This article originally appeared on Green Light Law Group and has been reposted with permission. You can contact Daniel at or (206) 430-1336.

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