One of the major focuses of New York’s burgeoning legal cannabis industry is reversing the harm that over-policing and systemic incarceration for marijuana crimes had on the state’s most marginalized communities during the infamous war on drugs.
The state is now being hailed by cannabis advocates for taking a major step toward marijuana justice, as Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the first 100 retail cannabis licenses will go to people who have served prison sentences for cannabis convictions.
One of the boroughs most impacted by cannabis enforcement through disproportionate over-policing and over-sentencing of cannabis-related crimes for Black and brown residents is the Bronx, cannabis advocates and studies say. Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) , which was signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo last March, came to fruition after years of stop-start legislative efforts.
According to Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, more than 100 licenses are expected to be awarded to these retailers with some of their businesses opening as early as the end of this year.
While advocates unequivocally applaud the move, Steve DeAngelo, a longtime cannabis justice activist, said that big questions still remain such as finding a viable source of marijuana supply for those retailers.
“A license to operate a shop that can’t stock any products that consumers actually want isn’t an opportunity — it is a recipe for failure,” DeAngelo told the Bronx Times. “As one of the founders of the Last Prisoner Project, which is dedicated to winning freedom for people convicted of cannabis crimes, I applaud the action.”
In addition to creating the regulatory ecosystem of an industry expected to create 30,000-60,000 jobs and collect $350 million in annual tax revenue, MRTA also operates under the lens of a social equity initiative, with a goal of having 50% of all licenses going to applicants such as minorities, women and veterans, as laid out by the initial legislation.
Hochul will soon lay out additional guidelines to becoming a licensed seller, according to sources. Advocates have noted the governor’s expediency in addressing the state’s rollout of its cannabis industry regulation and retail framework compared to her predecessor, as she was responsible for the appointments of Alexander and former Brooklyn Assemblymember Tremaine Wright as chair of the state’s regulatory board in August.
Additionally, Hochul is proposing the creation of a $200 million fund that “provide direct capital and startup financing” to cannabis-business applicants from the state’s most marginalized communities with part of the money for the fund coming directly from tax revenue and licensing fees.
According to a decade-long study of marijuana arrests by NYC police precincts, the Bronx’s 46th, 41st, 52nd and 44th precincts accounted for some of the city’s highest marijuana arrest rates over the last 10 years.
In NYC, there were 437 marijuana possession arrests in 2020, with 109 arrests occurring in the Bronx, the most out of the five boroughs. Advocates note that the communities with the highest level of marijuana enforcement also had the highest share of Black and Hispanic residents.
The state also announced that the first cannabis delivery license will go to Verio, a large multistate operator that currently holds New York medical cannabis licenses.
To read our three-part series on “Cannabis in the Bronx” click here.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.