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Asking for a friend: What to know about legalized pot in New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a plan last week to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in New York State. The plan has its critics. The New York State Association of County Health Officials opposed the idea last year and recently urged state lawmakers to approach legalization "with extreme caution." But state legislators are expected to pass the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act.

That's probably sparked a few questions.

Maybe you happen to know someone interested in just what would be legal and what would not.

A lot of details are still up in the air, but The Buffalo News will try to answer some burning questions about pot legalization:

How much marijuana would I be allowed to carry at a time?

An adult 21 or older could have up to one ounce of non-concentrated cannabis or up to 5 grams of concentrated cannabis, according to Cuomo's office.

What does an ounce of pot look like? A gram of marijuana "is roughly enough weed to pack a few decent sized bowls or roll a couple small joints," according to WikiLeaf.com, a Seattle-based price comparison website and informational hub for recreational and medical cannabis. There are 28 grams in an ounce of weed so "if your ounce of weed ends up in a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag, a general rule of thumb could be an ounce filling the bag with the height of four-fingers across," Wikileaf said. You do the math.

What's the difference between concentrated and non-concentrated cannabis?

Concentrated cannabis is "the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from a plant of the genus Cannabis." It is more potent than the marijuana that you smoke, a.k.a. non-concentrated cannabis, according to Justthinktwice.gov. "This form of marijuana can be up to four times stronger in THC content than high grade or top shelf marijuana, which normally measures around 20 percent THC levels," the website said.

How much would pot cost?

It's too soon tell, state officials say. But a quick internet search provides a good idea of what to expect to shell out for legal pot. An ounce of "high quality" marijuana in California averages $256.63, according to priceofweed.com. In Colorado and Massachusetts, the high-quality variety sells for $241.86 and $339.46, respectively.

Am I going to be able to find pot in the Tops' grocery aisle?

Nope. Marijuana would only be sold in specially licensed cannabis product stores, according to the proposed law. The stores would be able to set up shop in the same kinds of places liquor stores are allowed to operate. They must be certain distances away from schools and houses of worship and must notify the municipality of their intent to seek a retail pot license. The locality may express an “opinion” on a pot store’s location, but it can’t block the bid on its own.

Where could I smoke pot or consume edibles?

It would be perfectly legal to smoke marijuana or consume marijuana products in a private residence. Also, you could smoke marijuana and consume cannabis products at stores that have permits to allow consumption on the premises – think pot cafes. Fun fact: Cuomo's proposal would forbid a pot consumption license to a place that uses fireworks or pyrotechnics inside its buildings.

Also, Cuomo's act includes a provision to allow cannabis catering. A caterer would be able to provide cannabis products at an event "in a hotel, restaurant, club, ballroom or other premises." The catering would most likely be limited to edibles, since smoking anything – including tobacco – is prohibited in just about all workplaces, including hotels and restaurants.

Everything you wanted to know about legalizing pot in New York

What about bars?

No establishment that serves alcohol would be allowed to serve cannabis.

Am I going to be able to smoke it while driving?

No. Just like you can't drive while downing a beer, it would remain against the law to smoke pot while driving a vehicle, according to Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.

Can I drive while stoned?

Driving while impaired is already on the books and it will still be illegal to drive while impaired by drugs, Flynn said.

"My No. 1 priority now is the safety of the roads,"Flynn said. "I'm going to prosecute these cases strongly."

"Impaired" means high, Flynn said. To detect whether someone is impaired on marijuana, police must rely on officers trained as "drug recognition experts" to conduct field sobriety tests. Marijuana can also be detected through blood and urine tests, but court orders are needed for those.

Since it's already legal in Canada, can I carry pot across the border once it's legalized in New York State?

Due to the federal shutdown, The News couldn't get an answer this week from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

But here's what Customs officials told The Buffalo News' Phil Fairbanks back in the fall after Canada's pot laws went into effect.

Chances are good you might still run afoul of the people watching the U.S. border. The Peace Bridge and every other crossing in the region is under federal jurisdiction and there are no signs of the feds legalizing marijuana.

Even the smallest amount could bring a $500 fine – and the seizure of your pot. The consequences escalate depending on the amount and previous offenses. Also keep in mind that there's a heightened awareness among the people in the booths, and it’s possible you might also find one of their pot-sniffing dogs circling your car. Think zero tolerance, because that is what Customs officers are thinking.

Can I grow my own marijuana?

Not for recreational adult-use purposes. For those enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, those over age 21 can grow up to four plants at home in an enclosed, locked space not viewable to the public and only for the patient’s use.

Since it looks like recreational pot will be legalized, can I go ahead and smoke it now?

"The law is still the law," said Capt. Jeff Rinaldo of the Buffalo Police Department. "Until the law is changed, it's still a criminal offense. I would envision officers would continue to enforce it. If the legislation changes and it's no longer criminal, then they would be instructed to no longer enforce it."

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Got more questions for a friend? Email Maki Becker at mbecker@buffnews.com.

— News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this article.

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