NY is Latest State to Legalize Cannabis

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 25: People walk in front of a Weed World Candies truck on March 25, 2021 in New York City. New York State has reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana use and opened a way for an almost $4.2 billion industry that could create thousands of jobs. (Photo by Emaz/VIEWpress)

Governor Andrew Cuomo took a break at the end of March from his long-running pandemic victory lap and from denying he has sexually harassed anyone just long enough to sign a bill that legalizes cannabis for recreational use in New York State. With the federal government abandoning legalization to the states (much as it did the virus response), America is faced with a ridiculous patchwork of laws that are hindering the development of the industry.

That said, more than 110 million Americans live in places where adults can consume cannabis. Those states just coming into the legal camp have been able to learn from the experiences of places like Colorado and Washington State. As a result, the New York law is pretty good insofar as it can go. It will take about a year for everything to be in place, but this time next year, I expect the system to be up and running (although I also expect a few bugs that will need to be worked out.

Leslie Hoffman, co-founder of the Asheville Hemp Project in North Carolina, told me, “We still need some small changes to the NY law — such as home cultivation starting much sooner than currently expected. There is no rational reason to protect the large multi-state operators by giving them 18 months of operation first.

“Hopefully the regulating agency will become knowledgeable quickly and will recognize that many small and medium-sized businesses will create a vibrant and resilient economic environment for New Yorkers to benefit from. This is a great way to provide equity for many, and licensure should not be too cumbersome or competitive. It will also give consumers many product choices in the market.”

As she said, the Office of Cannabis Management is key to the success of the legislation. If the office gets things right and runs the set-up wisely, success in almost inevitable given the demand by consumers. On the other hand, if the OCM screws it up or gets bogged down in politics, things could get messy very easily. What concerns me most is the fact that three of the five OCM members will be appointed by the governor. Concentrating that much power over an industry in one pair of groping hands is unwise.

At the same time, the legalization of cannabis for recreational use offers the state an opportunity to spread this coming wealth around to places that could use it.

In Albany, the politicians have set aside half the licenses for persons of color and women as well as some farmers and veterans. In addition, those with criminal records for acts that are now legal will see their records expunged, which goes a long way to helping some individuals find and secure decent jobs. And speaking of jobs, the governor’s office anticipates the creation of 30-60,000 jobs generating $350 million in tax revenue.

Looking at the license set-asides first, the governor’s office states, “A social and economic equity program will facilitate individuals disproportionally impacted by cannabis enforcement, including creating a goal of 50% of licenses to go to a minority or woman owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry.”

Now defining who is a distressed farmer is going to be fun. Coming from a family of farmers on my dad’s side, every farmer feels distressed thanks to crop prices, fuel and fertilizer costs and the vagaries’ of the weather. And having a goal for distribution of licenses is easier than achieving it. I have had a goal of winning the lottery for years – so far, no luck.

Nevertheless, one has grounds for optimism. Attorney Rosemarie Moyeno Matos stated, “As a cannabis and business attorney practicing in the New Jersey and New York cannabis space, who has represented applicants during the 2018 and 2019 RFA’s issued by the NJDOH, I am elated to see that New York has finally moved toward legalization of adult-use with much-needed initiatives on social equity and social justice reform. Congratulations to the residents of New York!  As the legislation is rolled out and licenses awarded, I look forward to seeing those minority communities largely marginalized by the prohibition on cannabis growing in a space where they were historically treated disproportionately.”

For better or worse (worse really), the days of working for the same company for your whole life and retiring on a pension are over. Millennials and those even younger face a future where entrepreneurialism will prove vital to success. Done properly, legal cannabis can give future business owners opportunities well beyond growing and distributing pot. All of the support industries from security to greenhouse construction are also going to need new entrants.

Miriam Farer commented, “As a first-generation Dominican woman, living in Northern Manhattan, founder of Herbas® CBD Body Care, I hope marijuana legalization opens the door for many more like me and for young and older people to be re-educated to view this plant as more than a right of passage and blunt but as a real business opportunity to reach generational wealth, legally. Our communities will need to let go of the stigma and start to heal so much wrong done by years of prohibition from false narratives that blocked their access to information about the healing properties of the plant. The people GOT heard in New York, we did not just legalize, we bought justice with us! All of us or none of us. Now the re-education work begins, in many languages, that is the New York I am from. “

During prohibition of marijuana, the punishments fell more heavily on persons of color, and in expunging cannabis-related criminal records, the state will be doing much to right that wrong. People can say “no” to the question “have you ever been convicted of a crime.” That question on so many applications has prevented countless people from securing a decent job that might help them stay out of legal trouble.

Nelson Guerrero said, “Por fin! As an advocate and leader with the Cannabis Cultural Association here in NY, we can proudly say we won this round with Albany. An equitable bill has passed and we look forward to helping shape this new industry in our state. Cannabis legalization is a major step in righting the wrongs that have been done by the war on drugs, which has directly affected POC communities in NYS for years. This is a huge opportunity for people to have their records cleared and should lead to people being released from prison so they may take part in this industry or just live their lives in peace with no cannabis-related criminal record.”

He continued, “This bill creates great ownership and job opportunities for the POC community as a large emphasis was placed on minority ownership in the licensing process. We look forward to holding our state legislature accountable that the rollout of licenses and funds reflects the diversity of our state. I hope all the states that look to legalize soon follow in NYS path and allow for home cultivation. This is an amazing learning opportunity for all those abuelas and abuelos that may have been against cannabis to see the light. New York is now the beacon of the Cannabis industry on the East Coast, it is up to us all to make sure we lead by example because now the whole world is watching and taking note.”