Reefer Repairs in New New Amsterdam
New York State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes saw firsthand the disastrous effects of the war on drugs on black Americans when she was a county legislator and community activist in Buffalo. She saw how black people arrested for using or possessing small amounts of marijuana would pay an outrageous price through incarceration – a price with ripple effects on their lives and those of their families. She says New York’s landmark legalization law, which she authored and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last March, “could have been passed sooner,” but she had pledged to do so that the law the state eventually passed addresses both fairness and mass incarceration head-on.
New York’s Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act enshrines two crucial equity issues into law: it is designed to allow up to 50% of dispensary and social consumption site licenses to go to communities unduly affected by war against drugs, and it pledges to return 40% of tax revenue to these communities in the form of community reinvestment grants. The law also provides for the automatic expungement of previous cannabis-related convictions.
Now, from Erie County to East Harlem, minority entrepreneurs are gearing up for a legalization rollout that will bring these businesses to their communities. The question, however, is whether these same communities will welcome new drug businesses after suffering the ravages of crack, fentanyl, heroin and drug-related consequences such as stop and frisk that have unduly affected black and minority communities. . But, as Peoples-Stokes observes, “marijuana is the largest underground market in the state and probably the world”, and Prohibition had provided a continuous excuse to “lock up black people” for generations.
Legalization will bring standardization and regulation — and leave it up to local regulators to decide where and how to license dispensaries and social drinking sites in their communities, without the extra layers of licensing that have hampered California’s recreational rollout. “New York’s community councils will be engaged in this process,” Peoples-Stokes says, adding that there are already local laws governing the location of liquor stores and that, for example, federal law already prohibits smoking. in social housing. . Cannabis drinkers, she says, can look forward to the day when they can smoke legally and in socially sanctioned spaces.
Massachusetts was the first state to focus on social equity in its 2016 recreational weed law, but Peoples-Stokes says no other state that has legalized cannabis in recent years has it listed. the law. She recently visited Colorado and notes that a decade after the legalization of recreational cannabis, there is a black-owned dispensary across the state; California’s difficult road to legalization has not prioritized equity issues for its black and minority communities. “In New York, you had to make it intentional,” she says. “There is no state that we could have modeled [MRTA] afterwards, because no other state does. If you look at the Midwestern states, the majority white states, none of their desire to legalize had anything to do with righting the wrongs of mass incarceration.
For her part, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she was committed to making the state’s pot economy the most diverse and inclusive in the country, as she announced plans for a $200 million privately funded “social equity fund” that would provide a bridge between entrepreneurs and investors. Recipients of funding or grants under the proposal include women, minorities, farmers, disabled veterans, and families of victims of the war on drugs. The current proposal has raised some eyebrows for its reliance on private investors to pay for state social equity goals — and it’s unclear at this time who those investors may be.
Earlier in March, New York passed rules that prioritized license applicants who served time or were affected by a family member who did. These equity seekers must also have an established business, two years old, in order to qualify.
It’s worth noting that the rollout and the law itself have raised concerns in a predominantly white, male producer community. Although they’ve been cleared of any previous pot convictions in New York, producers also tend to have spent more time in jail, often much longer. A producer source said online chat rooms have argued that those who have served the longest sentences for pot charges should have the biggest head start in the new economy. While black and Latino pot arrests are grossly disproportionate to whites, the vast majority of arrests in these communities are related to possession. But while the law is explicit about directing funds to communities affected by the war on drugs, this year’s regulatory rollout has so far appeared to focus on taking care of all his victims.
As part of the larger MRTA, New York State has given municipalities and counties until the end of 2021 to decide whether to opt to have dispensaries or social drinking sites in their communities. The Rockefeller Institute of Government tracked the numbers and reported that 751 of New York’s 1,520 municipalities have opted to allow dispensaries in their communities, while 636 have opted to allow social drinking sites or another options.
In contrast, California’s Recreation Bill of 2016 created a licensing bureaucracy that tied on-site drinking licenses to existing dispensary licenses and allowed multiple levels of licensing from state to local. As a result, and despite an initial promise of Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes (“coffee shops”) springing up across the state, California still hasn’t opened a single social drinking space (although plans are finally in the works). ongoing for such sites in West Hollywood).
Omar Figueora, one of California’s most prominent cannabis lawyers, recognizing the opportunities in New York, recently opened a second law firm in Brooklyn to help residents here obtain licenses. Figueora is also the author of books on the California and New York legalization regimes. “The barrier to entry into the cannabis market is much lower in New York than in California,” he says. “All you need in New York is an empty space with adequate ventilation” to open a cannabis lounge.
Figueroa’s Brooklyn associate, attorney Andrew Kingsdale, notes that California’s decades-long alliance with cannabis legalization has served to create all kinds of “whiplash and confusion over the years” so that this state has gone from a grass-free local movement in San Francisco to pushing on the medical side, “then in the various collectives and cooperatives, then the billionaire-funded effort” for full recreational legalization. “New York did a lot of things right from the start,” Kingsdale says, “in an intentional and reasonable way. It is a much more egalitarian, fair and sustainable market for artisanal producers and other aficionados and associated businesses.
Figueroa has been based in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, for decades and explains that one of the reasons he put down a second shingle in New York is that the state is “more favorable ground to have many small successful businesses”. He’s not interested in representing big companies that produce substandard cannabis and says, “New York is a place where you can have the best cannabis in the world, and that fits with our California clientele, many of whom are curious about New York and the possibilities there. New York, as far as I’m concerned, is the center of the universe, and that’s going to be where the action is.
Figueroa envisions a new New Amsterdam and expresses excitement about, for example, bodega bud shops offering their flowers at the counter (a reliable source in Brooklyn confirms that counter sales are already buoyant). Figueroa says there’s a strong education process underway in black and minority communities that have been ravaged by the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and he’s optimistic that Peoples-Stokes’ vision for refrigeration repairs shall prevail. Black and minority neighborhoods are “beginning to see him as an asset to the community instead of a magnet for crime.” And he thinks these communities will welcome local entrepreneurs rather than the big cannabis operators that have plagued the California market. And, as Peoples-Stokes points out, the plant we’re talking about here has all sorts of potential for social and medical benefits. “Society didn’t do enough from a wellness perspective,” she says, “and we couldn’t study it because it was illegal.”