Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor

Hemp plants in greenhouses in Ithaca. Students across campus consider how cannabis legalization could change their social lives.

April 8, 2021

While New York Legalizes Cannabis, Cornell Keeps Long-Standing Restrictions

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Weed, grass, the “devil’s lettuce” — whatever students call it, adult recreational use of cannabis recently became legal in New York State. Some students across the Cornell community expressed their excitement toward the new legislation — even though marijuana won’t be legal on Cornell’s campus anytime soon.

On March 31, the New York State Legislature passed a bill allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrate, both of which can be smoked anywhere tobacco use is legal, except in motor vehicles. 

The new New York legislation comes after years of unsuccessful lobbying and stymied attempts, which primarily stemmed from disagreements over the distribution of tax revenue from marijuana sales. 

“I’m 100 percent in favor of legalization, and I believe it’s far overdue,” said Joseph Mullen ’24. “I believe that there is nothing harmful about it, and it should be treated like it.” 

However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns against the potentially harmful effects of marijuana usage, including breathing problems and hallucinations.

Some students said they thought legalizing marijuana could destigmatize the drug. 

Keaton Danseglio ’24 said he hoped the recent legislation would “allow people to be more open-minded and not stigmatize the drug just based on its legality status.” A growing acceptance of marijuana use could, according to Danseglio, transform social life around campus and facilitate new norms.

But Cornell isn’t changing its policies to allow cannabis on campus. In an April 2 email to the Cornell community, Joanne DeStefano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, clarified that the possession, use and distribution of marijuana on Cornell’s campus would remain prohibited in line with the unchanged federal law. Nearby schools, like Binghamton and Ithaca College, will hold to similar policies.

According to the email, Cornell’s position can be partially attributed to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug Free Workplace Act, which control the University’s federal funding based on it implementing programs and policies that ban any illegal drug. 

The night Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed recreational cannabis use into law, Housing and Residential Life sent an additional email to students living on campus, reminding them that Cornell doesn’t allow smoking in University-owned housing.

Some students said that they understand why Cornell has left its policies surrounding marijuana use unchanged. 

“While I think it is restrictive, it does make sense as smoking and stuff is still banned,” said Hailey Choi ’24. “I guess that nothing has really changed for most students at Cornell.”

But outside of campus, the recreational legalization of marijuana may pave the way for a potential $4.2 billion dollar industry in New York State. Although it will not be immediate, the introduction of dispensaries into the local area will make regulated marijuana more accessible to consumers and provide economic benefits to the state

Although the recreational legalization of marijuana was a breakthrough in progressive politics in New York State, the work is far from done, according to Mullen. 

“The criminalization of marijuana has ruined peoples’ lives, disproportionately people of color,” he said, referencing the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States for non-violent marijuana offenses. 

The bill will also erase cannabis-related felonies for those who had a previous marijuana conviction. However, Mullen said he believes that the New York State Legislature should put more effort into repairing the damage caused by the past criminalization of the newly legalized drug.

In the next few months, the New York Cannabis Control Board will begin to implement the policy, but dispensaries will likely not be able to open for more than a year.

Amanda H. Cronin ’21 contributed reporting.