New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), has included marijuana legalization in his 2020 budget proposal, causing cautious optimism among cannabis advocates.
Gov. Cuomo recently announced that marijuana legalization will include plans to create a new Office of Cannabis Management that will specialize in cannabis regulation and create the framework for medical, adult-use and hemp programs as well as set rules on everything from taxing marijuana sales to banning alcohol in lounges and dispensaries.
Cuomo's newly appointed 'Cannabis Czar', Norman Birenbaum recently told New York’s WNYC radio that the new bill equalizes marijuana-related infractions to those for alcohol and will protect and prioritize investment in minority communities.
A stalemate over how to spend the estimated $300 million marijuana tax revenue dollars derailed in a similar legalization push in 2019, which advocates are hoping to avoid this time around.
“New York can get legalization right, but it starts by centering reinvestment, equity, and justice within our comprehensive reform,” Kassandra Frederique of Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement.
“We need responsible legalization that doesn’t leave out the New Yorkers targeted by marijuana over policing.”
David Holland, executive and legal director of Empire State NORML and former legal counsel to High Times Magazine, agreed.
“Social equity is a big issue and represents an opportunity to bring those people who have been victimized by the war on drugs and those with criminal convictions, to benefit from expungement to be given priority to become part of the marketplace,” Holland told the Weed Blog.
Another group Holland feels should not be left out of the legal marijuana equation in New York are people who have not been arrested and therefore would not benefit from expungement or be prioritized by social equity programs: those who have been a part of the underground movement.
“We are trying to find ways for them to feel comfortable coming into the legalized market place so that it is all above board rather than continuing on as it has for decades: underground and criminalized.”
Holland and a group of colleagues recently launched the New York City Cannabis Industry Association, through which they hope to lay the groundwork for a successful and inclusive marketplace that prioritizes social equity.
“We intend to engage law enforcement, elected officials, neighborhood community boards and individuals to get their input and to try and find a unifying factor that will allow us to pass legalized cannabis in a way that will be equitable for everyone,” Holland said.
Not only is New York City the largest metropolitan area in the United States and the epicenter of world finance, it is also the largest cannabis consumer market in the world.
Advocates like Holland and Frederique as well as consumers of the 77.4 tons of weed consumed annually in the Big Apple, are hoping that 2020 is the year for legal weed in New York. Finally!