August 1, 2017

Legalizing Cannabis for Communities and Racial Justice in New York: StartSmartNY

August 1, 2017

A new adult-use (recreational) legislative initiative, StartSmartNY, has materialized in the Empire State, with the re-introduction of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) (previously stalled in prior legislative committees).  The movement is spearheaded by a coalition comprised of members and advocates associated with the Drug Policy Alliance, Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA), Latino Justice, Vocal NY, Empire State NORML, and the immigration Defense Project.  Together, they hope to influence New Yorkers into legalizing cannabis as “Smart” for New York’s communities, economy, and racial justice.

Cannabis Law Department of Hiller PC: Zachary Tyson, Lauren Rudick, and Michael Hiller

The launch party in mid-July for StartSmartNY began with a heartfelt moment of silence, led by DPA’s State Director for New York, Kassandra Frederique, in memory of fallen victims of the Black Lives Matter movement, including Eric Garner and Philando Castile.   Impassioned speeches were delivered thereafter by, among others, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, champion of New York’s medical marijuana regulation, the “Compassionate Care Act,” and State Senator Liz Krueger (New York), who sponsored MRTA with Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes (Buffalo).  Krueger also recently sponsored New York’s liberal hemp regulations, and Gottfried may be credited with decriminalizing marijuana in New York before the Rockefeller laws.  While Krueger focused primarily on the economics underlying legalization, Gottfried reminisced upon his early days as a cannabis advocate, recalling consumption-friendly celebrations, which now fall outside the criminal statute of limitations, of course.  The founders of the Cannabis Cultural Association, Jake Plowden and Nelson Guerrero, took the stage as well, with emotional speeches in both English and Spanish, underscoring the importance and exigence of social justice reform.

Kassandra Frederique of DPA, Nelson Guerreo and Jake Plowden of Cannabis Cultural Association, and David Holland of Empire State NORML

Under the MRTA, cannabis in New York would be regulated like alcohol, similar to the model used in Oregon.  MRTA contains unique “substantial racial justice and small business-friendly” provisions including: (i) creating a micro-license structure comparable to New York’s craft wine and beer industries, which is designed to foster small-scale production and sale, reducing barriers to entry for people who lack traditional methods of financing; (ii) establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the failed War on Drugs, through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming; and (iii) ensuring diversity and inclusion in NY’s cannabis industry by allowing those with prior drug convictions to participate in licensing.  Business-related convictions (i.e., fraud, tax evasion) however, would be disqualifying.

New York, the birthplace of the Rockefeller laws, and a State with extreme racial disparities in the prison population, has a particular responsibility to undo the harm caused by cannabis prohibition.  Those interested in joining the campaign or receiving additional information may do so by visiting  

Author bio: Lauren Rudick, Esq. is a Partner in the NYC-based boutique law firm, Hiller, PC.  A “recovering litigator,” Lauren focuses on cannabis transactions, primarily representing investors and startup organizations.  Lauren is also an Expert Contributor to Marijuana Venture magazine and works pro bono for the Cannabis Cultural Association and Drug Policy Alliance.


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