When Gov. Cuomo recently expressed doubt that recreational marijuana legislation will get accomplished this year, those in communities harmed by drugs sighed in frustration. Not only does this mean their neighbors and family members who have been arrested for selling or possessing cannabis may spend more time in jail waiting for laws to change, but any delay in getting this bill passed means their odds of getting real equity into the coming legalized cannabis industry will get slimmer.
As they know, stakes are high, and there is only one chance to create equity from the start.
Sure, lots of New York politicians support recreational marijuana legalization and Gov. Cuomo has publicly recognized that this bill should not leave behind communities harmed by the war on the drugs, but his current proposal doesn’t make the fixes needed for there to be equity on day one.
In fact, quite the opposite. As written, the law gives advantages to existing medical license holders, which are mostly held by large corporations while equity company owners, those coming from communities who were harmed in criminalization, will be limited to fewer licenses and privileges. The current proposal allows for the existing nine medical retail operators to purchase access to licenses at auction while everyone else will have to wait 18-24 months to get in the industry.
Spoiler alert: The person who gets the head start wins. In this case, communities harmed by the war on drugs will, at best, trail behind. That is unacceptable and not in line with the governor’s promises in his state of the state.
Companies, like ours that come from and work with communities impacted by the war on drugs– Black, Latino, and LGBTQ communities– should not have to wait until the medical marijuana giants are thriving to even apply for licenses. We do business in California and Oregon and want to ensure NY doesn’t make the mistakes of other states in legalization. But whether New York will be a fertile place for us to expand our business remains to be seen.
The other option on the table is the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger. While it is a solid start, it also doesn’t include pathways for those in the informal industry to reap the same benefits as large corporations—to do so it needs to eliminate the horizontal cap for equity eligible licenses so they can compete with the large corporations.
More is needed or New York will repeat the mistakes of other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Entrepreneurs from communities harmed by the war on drugs deserve pathways to education, employment, ownership, and access to capital in the industry. To make sure New York does it right, equity applicants should be given ample time and resources to start their companies on day one and shouldn’t be limited to the number of licenses they can have.
These programs aren’t just good practice; equity is the best way to ensure a strong industry both in how revenue stays in communities who need it most, but also to help transition from and compete with the illicit economy. As we’ve seen in California and Colorado, hashing out equity after a bill has been passed threatens the strength of the foundation of the industry and its ability to compete with the illicit economy.
If there are no pathways for people in the informal economy to get licenses, the informal cannabis industry will remain strong, making it hard for all in the industry to profit. This was the case in California and, as a result, the expectations for tax revenue is far less than projected and they are scrambling to find fixes now.
New York cannot afford to delay passage of this bill or to view equity as an afterthought. This industry can transform communities if we do this right. The time is now.