CANNABIS CULTURE -While New Yorkers wait for the government to set up the infrastructure, the bill allows adults 21 years or older to smoke cannabis anywhere that tobacco is allowed.
The question now is, who will legalization leave behind?
After a tough fiscal year, politicians and cannabis advocates gathered in the streets of New York City to celebrate the state gearing up for adult-use sales, which are expected to begin in 2022.
Hundreds attended the annual Cannabis Parade & Rally held on May 1st and legally consumed cannabis for the first time, protected by law under New York’s new Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA).
“New York is a state that has traditionally been very reliant on tourism, it is one of the capitals of finance from a global perspective, and the state and New York City in particular have been hit really hard,” said Simon Malinowski, an attorney at the New York City office of Harris Bricken law firm.
40% of tax revenues generated by adult-use sales will be funneled into communities disadvantaged by the war on drugs.
Malinowski said during a webinar that because of COVID, New York is facing one of the more significant budget deficits that it has ever experienced, “And because of that, the tax revenue that will be gained from the passage of MRTA and a taxable product, that will be sold from both a retail and medicinal perspective, is going to bolster the state’s coffers and hopefully close some of that budget deficit.”
MRTA has received international attention since it not only addresses cannabis reform, but also the issue of the war on drugs viewed as a war on race. The bill states that 40% of tax revenues generated by adult-use sales will be funneled into communities disadvantaged by the war on drugs.
However, applicants still must wait until the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) is set up, which will regulate adult-use, medical cannabis, and hemp. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce the board members later this year. The state’s adult-use program is projected to reach $2.5 billion in annual sales within the next five years.
In his 2022 budget outline, Cuomo stated that beginning in the Fiscal Year 2023, revenues from adult-use sales will be first distributed to the Cannabis Social Equity Fund in the amount of $100 million over four years and $50 million annually thereafter.
“Prohibition was never about marijuana use,” said New York State assembly member Emily Gallagher at Union Square Park rally, which was the same hotspot for protestors gathering in 2020 after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other citizens of color. “It’s about selectively enforcing laws to criminalize and control black and brown people.”
A report by the cannabis advocacy and prison reform nonprofit, Last Prisoner Project (LPP), stated that in 2020— although white New Yorkers were twice as likely as their non-white counterparts to consume cannabis—Black and Latinx people made up over 93% of those arrested on marijuana charges.
Gallagher said that New York State has a responsibility to fight for a legal cannabis industry that respects workers’ rights, that is densely unionized, and is run by people who used to sell weed in the “informal” economy. “We cannot let it be dominated by a handful of corporations. We cannot let it cut out the very people who have been criminalized and abused under the prohibition.”
While New Yorkers wait for the government to set up the CCB, the bill allows adults 21 years or older to smoke cannabis anywhere that tobacco is allowed. Adults can also carry up to three ounces of flower or 24 grams of concentrate.
The new bill will begin expungement of previous cannabis-related criminal records in the state and includes a provision preventing employers from disciplining or discriminating against workers for using the drug during personal time. Home grows, maxed at 12 plants per household, will not be allowed until 18 months after adult-use sale begins.
“We are global tribe. There’s hundreds of millions of us all around the world who’ve had the same experiences with this plant. We’ve seemed to learn the same lessons and we’ve developed the same value system,” said Steve DeAngelo, founder of LPP.
DeAngelo first participated in the march in 1975 and paid homage to advocates who have died since then including Doug Greene, Jack Herer, Dennis Peron, and Mary Jane Rathbun.
At the rally, New York State Senator Chuck Schumer said he has been working with New Jersey Senator Corey Booker and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to legalize cannabis nationwide.
Schumer expects bi-partisan support for his legislation and gave the example of the historically conservative state, South Dakota, legalizing cannabis in 2020. “We’re going to put forward advanced, comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history but undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory and often bigoted polices.”