New York’s adult-use legalization effort is in limbo. What once was considered a foregone conclusion by many is now teetering on falling off the 2019 legislative map.
After Governor Andrew Cuomo flipped and supported cannabis, he made the bold projection that legalization would pass within the first 100 days of 2019. Not only did that not turn out to be accurate, but the measure was also cut from the state budget – making its legalization that much more unlikely. While many began to doubt 2019 would be the year the state legalizes, the Governor and his administration insist that something could still pass before this year’s session ends in June.
In late May, an effort was launched to do just that. With a new amendment filed, the proposed bill is now revised and hopes to rally enough supporters to get the bill over the finish line. Guests and vendors at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in New York on May 30, 2019 had several reasons to point towards the hold-up.
A Lack of Social Equity
A lack of social equity parameters was the primary reason mentioned by just about every person we spoke to. Christian Hageseth is the CEO of ONE Cannabis, a cannabis company and franchisor focused on inclusion in the industry. He explained what social equity is and its importance to many in the cannabis space.
“Social equity is the acknowledgment that there’s a social inequity in cannabis that people of color were arrested more often and did longer terms for drugs [and] drug crimes than white people get…and it’s trying to give a preferential license for those people who were most adversely affected by the war on drugs.” But social equity doesn’t focus on skin color, due to the laws of the United States. Instead, social equity focuses on communities most impacted by the drug war. Often, these communities are predominantly of color.
Roz McCarthy is the founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana. She mentioned how cannabis regulations have been an issue for New York since its rollout of medical marijuana. At one point, the program was considered one of the most restrictive in the nation but has since made incremental improvements. McCarthy pointed out that one issue with the program was its lack of educational and economic opportunities, stifling two key areas the market needs to flourish.
Division Over Compromise
McCarthy said that now that New York has the additional weight of social equity on the agenda, it has led to conflicting goals and interests. “When you’ve got all these different forces fighting one another and you can’t come to consensus on how to do this…and being able to support a lot of different agendas, you’re going to get sluggish.”
This sort of inner turmoil is supported by people like Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. He said “rival factions” had a hand in creating the division. He added, “It’s the lesson that even though we all want the same goal, I think that there was not enough emphasis on compromise early on.”
Such extended division includes a lack of a comprehensive campaign, according to Hawkins.
He feels that the current effort lacks the extensive effort made by other measures. This includes having the cannabis community band together, hire one set of lobbyists and work with the Democrats to free up money to organize and target key districts.
A Bill Not Fully Hashed Out Can Lead to Issues at Home
Hawkins believes that New York’s early rollout of the bill may have caused problems as well. Instead, he points towards the Midwest and Illinois, where adult-use legislation could happen before New York or New Jersey. He explained, “[The measure] probably would have benefited a lot more from conversations in private and trying to work out as many of the details before it goes public. Once the bill, I think, was out there publicly in New York, it just had a big bullseye on it.”
That bullseye includes districts where adult-use is not so welcome, which may have been overlooked by polling. “Even if the polling in New York showed 57 percent public support, that doesn’t essentially relate to districts in upstate New York.”
What Happens to New York Now?
The general consensus seems to be that those who spoke for this article are fine with New York delaying legalization until it gets social equity right. “We have to work with our legislators to be able to come up with language that is going to be bipartisan, support it. I do believe that New York having this commitment of making sure that their social justice, social equity that’s incorporated within the bill from day one – I support that,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy explained that the process will “take some time”. She likened it to a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. She also empathized with lawmakers, acknowledging their role and where they may be coming from with their stance, including personal views and constituent desires. She described the need for coming together and hashing out a plan for New York.
“I do believe that you’re going to have to give a little bit to get a little bit. I think there’s going to be, have to be some kind of compromise and going on, but it’s not gonna happen overnight. And so that’s why [Minorities for Medical Marijuana] is here.”