The state of New York is gearing up to legalize cannabis in the state as Governor Andrew Cuomo officially included the Executive Budget Proposal fo 2021 to 2022. This is the third time that the governor is pushing for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the state following disagreements on budget and tax revenue allocations being a sore point.
The plan has long been in the making and has had great anticipation in the state, especially with its promised economic boost once the sector has been legalized.
Money Issues and Concerns for People of Color
In attempts to answer the disparity between legislators, the Daily News states that Governor Cuomo proposed the creation of a new and independent state agency that would ultimately decide how tax revenues from cannabis sales would be spent and allocated. On the other hand, other legislators, including Senator Liz Krueger from Manhattan, desired a part of the tax revenues to go to communities affected by the War on Drugs.
However, there are various reports that say that the legalization plan continues to pose threats against the liberties of people of color and other communities, the very people Governor Cuomo is hoping to help as they have been badly hit by the War on Drugs.
The issue comes to light especially with many detractors surfacing against the limited the allocation of funds for sectors affected by this multigenerational campaign. According to a Marijuana Moment article, the administration intends to set aside approximately $100 million from the $350 marijuana tax revenue that New York is expected to bring in.
The $100 million in funding would reportedly be given as social equity grants to communities in attempts to help them gain access to the cannabis industry. These are to be distributed throughout four years, with Marijuana Moment saying that the state will be allocating another $50 million per year.
In a statement to Marijuana Moment, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said that the “parameters of that [grant program] have not been established yet. This is where we want to have input from those communities to determine, does this help businesses set up retail operations in order to be in the communities legally selling marijuana? Does this create other opportunities to address job training?”
The same sentiments are echoed by the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance Melissa Moore. Moore voiced support for Cuomo’s planned allocation of marijuana tax revenues, reports Lohud. However, she also voiced her concerns regarding the allocation, stating she was disappointed as the funding’s reach was quite limited given the extent of the communities affected by the war on drugs.
In a statement, Moore said, “After a period of five years, the funds directed to the communities hardest hit by the marijuana arrest crusade would amount to a small share of the tax revenue that the state would receive.”
“We, along with our community and legislative allies, have long said that legalization needs to be done right if it is to be done right now – that means centering communities that have borne the brunt of racist enforcement for far too long.”
In its report, Lohud reveals that people of color are more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession compared to white people. As a matter of fact, in 2019 alone, the site states that 75% of arrests for low-level marijuana charges are people of color, including Blacks and Latinos.
Cannabis Advocates vs. New York Marijuana Legalization
Furthermore, Marijuana Moment states that the amendment and introduced by the governor in his budget request proposal have caught the attention of cannabis activists. One of the proponents within Gov. Cuomo’s proposal was to “enhance criminal penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana and creates new criminal penalties for growing and selling marijuana without a license.”
Given this approach by the governor, many individuals and activists feel that the legalization is simply a means to increase criminalization when in fact, the state of New York is all for decriminalizing and legalizing the drug.
While adult-use cannabis for individuals aged 21 and older will be made available in the state, Cuomo’s proposal also included a part that would make the drug illegal to individuals under the age of 21. Those who sell cannabis to underaged people would be treated as a class D felon and would get up to two and a half years of jail time.
As of writing, Marijuana Moment reveals that New York’s current legislation surrounding this is that sales of cannabis to an underaged individual is only charged with a misdemeanor.
With the history of violence surrounding people of color during the War on Drugs campaign, activists believe this measure is no different from going back into such similar circumstances if the provision passes.
Moore states that with the state of New York planning to legalize cannabis, “that needs to mean not creating new marijuana crimes.”
With the feedback and the pushback from cannabis activists, Marijuana Moment states that it seems that making some changes to Cuomo’s proposal is on the horizon. Organizations hope that with the points they have centered on, the government of New York will be open to negotiations with lawmakers, most of whom they hope to put a “greater emphasis on social equity.”
Other areas of concern that activists have brought to light include the removal of cannabis home cultivation for both medical marijuana patients as well as recreational users and the equity and regulatory control of the cannabis market.
In particular, the advocates are questioning the power that would be given to the director of the Office of Cannabis Management, the new independent agency tasked to oversee cannabis productions and industry.
Apart from the aforementioned areas of concern, Marijuana Moment also points out that many individuals also called out the lack of licenses for delivery services as well as on-site consumption at dispensaries. The bill, however, mentions that it is able to provide a caterer’s permit that allows cannabis to be consumed and sold in certain establishments, such as hotels, restaurants, and the like, within specific hours.
The current landscape of cannabis in New York leaves many sectors and individuals hopeful as Cuomo tries to legalize the drug third year in a row. With changes affecting in the industry via the proposed bill, Cuomo could address not only the path towards legalization, but also pave the way for social justice, especially towards people of color, to be achieved.