What’s Happening in New York Now That Cannabis is Legal?

“Free samples! Edibles! Check it out,” the young entrepreneur who goes by the moniker “AI” yells in between tokes on a joint slathered with budder. Then, she adds, “I’m high as f*ck!”

This is a Friday night in Washington Square Park, a key youth gathering point in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and business is brisk.

‘Open Market’ in Washington Square

AI says her initials stand for An Inspiration, and her business, registered in New York state last year, is Canaremedy — offering its own line of infused edibles, topicals and oils. At the table she has set up, she is also offering little baggies of bud, and pre-rolled joints.

Those inquiring about free samples are encouraged to help themselves to a little paper cup of AI’s “weed juice” — AI’s own concoction featuring a THC tincture. For the other products, money is exchanged, but technically, AI says she is accepting donations for free samples, rather than making sales.  

It may seem a semantic distinction, but the since the passage of New York’s Marijuana Taxation & Regulation ACT (MRTA) in March, there is an “open market” in the state. Even if authorities officially do not view it that way, it is clear that the police are taking a hands-off approach. Several other tables peddling similar wares are set up nearby. The cops clustered around the square’s iconic arch, some 50 yards away, do not interfere. And this scene has been unfolding every night all summer long, and now into early fall.

Canaremedy founder “AI” holds up one of her products in Washington Square Park. PHOTO Bill Weinberg

AI’s goal is to eventually get a storefront, and a share of the licensed market. She registered the Canaremedy brand in 2020, in anticipation of legalization. Born in Newark and once homeless on the streets of New York, she’s now an East Village resident. 

She explains that she got into developing her own cannabis products because her sister is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her ailing mother suffered from a skin condition. “I felt the need to help my family — both with financial support and medicine.” Her first creation was a CBD “body butter” that aided her mother’s condition.  

“My mission is to create a business to help people and the community — mind, body and soul.” And also, she adds, to finance her ambitions as a writer, rapper, artist and musician. She is currently working on a semi-autobiographical book, Love A Lesbian.

Local Neighborhood Business

“Trademark Rob” has over the past several weeks maintained a similar table, this one on the sidewalk of Clinton Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I was born and raised on Clinton Street,” he says proudly as he breaks up bud to roll a joint on the curbside. “Clinton is on my birth certificate.”  

The baseball cap he wears backwards, New York style, shows the official logo of the city, in the official font — “NYC.” But it is adorned with a cannabis leaf image and the letters below read “New York Cannabis.”

Trademark launched his tongue-in-cheek brand a year ago as an apparel line, with the anticipation of cannabis going legal in New York state. After months of selling hoodies, caps and t-shirts emblazoned with the New York Cannabis logo from a storefront at 40 Clinton, on April 1 (the day after MRTA was signed) he started offering cannabis officially, as a promotional give away with an apparel sale. He set up the sidewalk stand in September, when the storefront was temporarily closed for renovations.

At the stand, Trademark and his crew offer a sealed baggie of bud (3.5 grams) with a purchase of $100 worth of merchandise. “We call that an eighth on the street,” Trademark says wryly.

“Trademark Rob” takes a puff in front of his Clinton Street sidewalk storefront. PHOTO Bill Weinberg

Waiting to get back into the storefront after the landlord completes renovation, Trademark says being on street has increased awareness and visibility. “People were thinking we were just an apparel store.”

There has been no problem with law enforcement whatsoever, according to Trademark. He’s openly sold bud and edibles from his table. “The cops are more concerned with vehicles parked in the bike lane,” he quips.  

“It all unfolded organically for me,” Trademark says. “We’ll apply for a retail license when it’s available. We want to offer educational courses for those new to the cannabis biz, and a members-only consumption lounge. Maybe a smoke and paint, instead of a sip-and-paint.” 

A list of available varieties displayed at the table names San Fernando Valley OG, Glookies (Gorilla Glue X Girl Scout Cookies), Cake Batter, Kasmeir, East Coast Sour Diesel and Fruity Pebbles.  

Trademark says all the product is New York state indoor, and much of it grown within the city. He says whole buildings in the city are now dedicated to cannabis cultivation, exploiting the six plants per adult resident allowed under MRTA. Although technically, this provision does not take effect for several months.

Delayed Licensing Process

This same strategy of conforming to the letter of the law by the narrowest of margins is also being pursued by the city’s CBD stores, which are openly selling very potent Delta-8 products. Since passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, hemp-derived Delta-8 THC has been in a legal grayzone, as the law only refers to Delta-9 THC as a prohibited cannabinoid.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, for two years now, has instructed the NYPD to not make arrests for small cannabis offenses, and New York City’s district attorneys are no longer prosecuting such cases. However, this applies to use and possession rather than sale. And while arrests dropped dramatically under this policy, as recently as mere weeks before the passage of MRTA, there were still instances of brutal arrests for cannabis offenses. 

Under MRTA, public use and possession by those over 21 are now legal, within the permitted limits: three ounces of bud or 24 grams of concentrate. But unlicensed cannabis sale is another matter and it not clear if the law treats the exchange of unlicensed cannabis from one hand to another any differently if no money is exchanged. The current laissez-faire atmosphere in the Big Apple appears to be a matter of policy rather than law.

Six months after the passage of MRTA, state authorities are only now starting the process of crafting the licensing and regulation structure for commercial cultivation, processing and sale. The first meeting of the new Cannabis Control Board was finally held on Oct. 5, in a virtual format, NewYorkUpstate reports. Political chaos in New York state (then-governor Andrew Cuomo stepped down under cloud of scandal five months after signing MRTA) contributed to delays in appointment of the five-member board. 

“The MRTA was signed into law on March 31. But we were not able to begin the work of establishing New York’s cannabis market until Sept. 22, when the full cannabis control board was appointed. As such, there was a six-month delay to make up,” Christopher Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, told the board as the meeting opened, according to LoHud.  

And the only immediate changes to come out of this first meeting concerned the state’s very limited medical marijuana program. Board members agreed to permanently waive the $50 registration fee for patients and caregivers and to make actual herbaceous cannabis an approved form of medical marijuana product.

Empire State Canna-Boom?

A coming cannabis boom was hyped by Gov. Kathy Hochul at the Business Council of New York State’s annual meeting on Sept. 24. “We do want to go big or go home, and I want to help you get there,” she said. “I need you to survive because you’re the identity of New York that people create jobs and opportunities. You are who we are as New Yorkers. Your success means the success of this entire state,” Hochul affirmed.

“So count me in as an ally — someone who’s going to be there for you, who will fight for you to make sure that we do not lose out to any competition, whether it’s in the space of cannabis, where I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs and new industries, to be created.”

The Business Council meeting, held “in real life” at Rockefeller Center’s posh Rainbow Room, brought out several bigwigs of finance, industry and celebrity, including Bronx native and retired NFL player Ruben Lindo, who is now CEO of Phoenix Nutraceutical and founder of Buffalo-based Blak Mar Farms. Lindo applauded the state’s commitment to award cannabis business licenses to neighborhoods impacted by cannabis prohibition under MRTA’s social equity provisions. But he urged that those who have already been in the industry deserve more than a carved-out allocation of permits, according to MarketWatch.

“It’s about giving the rightful ownership of an industry to people who bore the brunt of incarceration,” Lindo said. “We operated in the space at risk of life and liberty.”

Many of these legacy operators are already taking advantage of the post-MRTA euphoria and bureaucratic limbo to boogie in public. It remains to be seen whether this thriving informal sector will survive once the big boys start getting state licenses.

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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Unveil Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

Two Pennsylvania state lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults and create a regulated market for adult-use marijuana. The legislation from Democratic state Reps. Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, House Bill 2050, also includes social equity provisions to encourage participation in the legal cannabis industry by members of communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

“I’m once again championing the effort to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. We’ve heard from residents across the state, and the overwhelming majority agree it’s time to pass this initiative,” Wheatley said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “Not only would it create jobs and generate much-needed revenue, but it contains important social justice provisions that would eliminate the aggressive enforcement of simple marijuana possession laws in marginalized communities.”

House Bill 2050, which shares the designator of a 2020 cannabis legalization bill that failed to gain the support of the GOP-led legislature, would decriminalize, regulate and tax adult-use, recreational marijuana, making it legal for purchase for those 21 and older. The legislation would also establish multiple grant programs funded by cannabis tax revenue that would benefit small, minority and women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania. Frankel said such measures were necessary to address the harm caused by decades of cannabis prohibition.

“Failed cannabis policies of the past have resulted in the worst of all possible worlds: insufficient protection of the public health, aggressive enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color and zero revenue for this commonwealth,” said Frankel, who serves as the Democratic chair of the House Health Committee. “With this legislation, Pennsylvania can begin to repair the historical harms and reap the benefits of a fact-based approach to regulating the cultivation, commerce and use of cannabis for adults over 21 years old.”

The legislation would also establish a regulatory process for cannabis growers, processors, and retailers and levy a 10 percent tax on wholesale transactions. License fees for cannabis businesses will be based on gross revenue, with larger companies paying higher fees. Consumers will pay a retail tax of six percent for the first two years, increasing to 12 percent and then 19 percent over the following two years.

Democratic Leaders Signal Support for Legalization

House Bill 2050 is already gaining the support of Pennsylvania Democratic leaders including the state’s lieutenant governor and attorney general, who called for the records of those with past marijuana convictions to be cleared through “Cannabis Clean Slate” provisions of the bill.

“NY has legalized marijuana. NJ has legalized marijuana. It’s time for PA to join our neighbors, and legalize marijuana,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro tweeted on Tuesday morning. “But let me be clear: We must simultaneously expunge the records of those serving time for nonviolent marijuana convictions—and that is non-negotiable.”

In February, Pennsylvania Democratic state Senator Sharif Street of Philadelphia and Senator Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie, announced that they would be sponsoring bipartisan legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. However, they have yet to actually introduce a bill in the legislature. 

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who for years has been a vocal supporter of cannabis reform and is now running to represent the Keystone State in the U.S. Senate, says that it is time for more Republican lawmakers to support cannabis legalization.

“Pennsylvania wants this; Pennsylvania needs this, for any number of reasons. I always tell people that the key takeaway is that prohibition is so much more work than just admitting that you’ve evolved on marijuana,” Fetterman said in a telephone interview with High Times. “And let’s just make this legal in a bipartisan way, because a majority of their constituents want this, too.”

“I love to see any time another bill comes up,” he added, referring to House Bill 2050. “Right now, we still have one Republican sponsor in the Senate, and it all comes down to when the Republicans acknowledge that the time for legal weed in Pennsylvania is right.”

The post Pennsylvania Lawmakers Unveil Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill appeared first on High Times.

Episode 377 – Is it Safe for SAFE Banking Yet?

Matt Walter and Shea Gunther speak with host Heather Sullivan about the possible return of the SAFE Banking Act, the reported diversion of millions of pounds of cannabis out of California’s legal market, and the fight over local control of marijuana business. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Philip Brewer/Flickr

Uruguay Considers Opening Legal Marijuana Market to Tourists

Uruguay, the world’s first nation to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, is considering opening its regulated marijuana market to tourists. Under the proposal from the administration of President Luis Lacalle Pou, visitors to the country would be permitted to purchase marijuana at licensed outlets, providing a new source of revenue for Uruguay’s struggling regulated cannabis industry.

Daniel Radio, Uruguay’s secretary-general of the National Drugs Board, said that the administration’s plan could be released by the end of this year in order to garner support and build consensus for the proposal, according to a report published by Bloomberg this week. Allowing visitors to the country to purchase marijuana legally would give Uruguay’s cannabis industry access to an additional 3.5 million visitors per year, many who come from neighboring Brazil and Argentina to enjoy beaches during the South American summer during the months of December through February.

“It seems to me that if we come up with a good proposal,” Uruguay could allow tourists to purchase cannabis in its regulated market, Radio said in an interview. “For the upcoming tourism season, it’s highly unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Uruguay’s Deputy Tourism Minister Remo Monzeglio said the goal is not to make the country a cannabis destination for tourists from around the world. Instead, the plan to allow tourists to purchase marijuana legally is an attempt to direct sales from visitors away from the illicit market and provide regulated producers a new source of business.

Uruguay Legalized Cannabis in 2013

Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize cannabis with a bill passed by lawmakers and signed by the president at the time, Jose Mujica, in December 2013. Under the regulations, adult citizens of the country and foreign residents can join a government registry that allows them to grow their own marijuana, join a cannabis buyers club, or purchase up to 40 grams of cannabis per month at authorized pharmacies.

Supporters of legalizing cannabis in Uruguay argued that the move would support personal freedom, provide a legal alternative to the criminal gangs running the country’s drug trade, and create a new product for export to the rest of the world. But after eight years of legal cannabis, much of the trade in marijuana is still controlled by illicit gangs while exports have yet to hit $10 million in a year. And as more countries around the globe legalize cannabis, competition for lucrative foreign trade in the crop is ramping up.

“I think there was excessive optimism regarding the possibilities of growth, because we aren’t playing alone here,” said Radio, who also heads cannabis regulatory agency Ircca.

Cannabis exports are increasing, doubling to $7.5 million in 2020, but far less than the hundreds of millions of dollars predicted by some in the industry. And now Colombia is emerging as a regional powerhouse cannabis producer, posing stiff competition to other countries including Uruguay thanks to favorable regulations and an excellent climate for growing the crop.

Camilo Ospina, chief innovation officer for the Canadian-owned PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, noted in 2018 that Colombia’s reputation as a global source for premium cannabis has already been established thanks to decades of trade on the illicit market.

“Our advantage is that the Colombian brand already has a mystique,” Ospina told The Washington Post. “We want to intensify that, so that the Colombian cannabis you already know – the Punto Rojo, the Colombian Gold – is the cannabis you want to buy.”

To contend with the competition, Uruguay has enacted new regulations to boost imports. And the country’s cannabis regulator Ircca has issued a total of 56 licenses for operations including medical marijuana cultivation, research and development, and medical and consumer product manufacturing.

“Some investment is showing up in manufacturing and value-added processes. That has to be our bet, because it’s the only way Uruguay can be competitive,” Radio said, noting the country’s high costs for labor and energy.

Tourists Would Pay More for Weed

Radio said that a presidential decree from Lacalle Pou would be the quickest way to grant tourists who register with the national database access to Uruguay’s authorized pharmacies and perhaps cannabis clubs. A plan that would allow visitors to the country to purchase marijuana without joining the national registry would require new legislation from Uruguay’s Congress, however.

Monzeglio of the tourism ministry said in a separated interview that he has proposed charging tourists who buy cannabis in Uruguay higher prices than those paid by residents of the country. The additional revenue, he suggested, could be used to fund addiction treatment and drug rehabilitation programs.

Although Uruguay is unlikely to establish rules to allow visitors to purchase legal cannabis this year, the country is ready to welcome back tourists following the pandemic. Authorities plan to reopen Uruguay’s borders to fully vaccinated travelers beginning on Nov. 1.

The post Uruguay Considers Opening Legal Marijuana Market to Tourists appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Episode 375 – What Can New York and California Learn From Each Other?

Mike Liszewski and Jeremy Berke speak with host Ben Larson about the lessons New York and California can learn from one another as their respective markets take hold and mature, as well as the status of federal legalization and cannabis research legislation. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Elsa Olofsson/Flickr

Ohio Program Trains Cannabis Offenders for Industry Jobs

An Ohio nonprofit organization providing services for formerly incarcerated people has teamed up with a medical marijuana cultivator to develop a cannabis jobs training program for individuals with past  marijuana convictions.

Dubbed URC Grows, the collaboration between United Returning Citizens and Youngstown, Ohio licensed growing operation Riviera Creek Holdings LLC aims to pair past cannabis offenders with industry jobs in the state’s legal cannabis market.

“This program will give [the past offenders] an opportunity to get back into the workforce,” Brian Kessler, chairman of Riviera Creek Holdings, told The Business Journal.

The new jobs program will be open to those with prior marijuana-related offenses including cannabis possession, sales or cultivation on their records. Dionne Dowdy, executive director of United Returning Citizens (URC), told a local television news team that URC Grows is an attempt to address the harms caused by the failed War on Drugs while ensuring that the economic benefits of legal cannabis are shared with the most impacted communities.

“There were so many people that were jailed by this and now that everyone is making money off something that they are already sitting in jail for, we want to give them an opportunity. Everyone needs a second chance and these are the things that they can do that [are] just natural to them, that they will thrive in, so why not give them this opportunity,” Dowdy said.

Dowdy added that she has already signed up two prior cannabis offenders for what she hopes will be an initial class of 10 students. Graduates of the cannabis job training program will be prepared to work in Ohio’s growing medical industry, which currently serves approximately 200,000 registered patients.

“We already have a problem with workforce now but if we’re taking the next people that are coming and we’re training them and giving them an opportunity; to have a job, to have a career, to take care of their family, not only would it help them – it would help our city, it would help our community, it will help with the crime,” Dowdy said.

Developing Cannabis Entrepreneurs

URC Grows will provide cannabis education and job training in three focused areas, with a certificate of completion awarded upon graduation from the program. Areas of study include: an agriculture program concentrating on hydroponics and aquaponics; an industrial hemp program designed to teach prospective farmers how to grow, process and sell hemp for fiber, grain, or CBD. The third track, a marijuana program, will provide education on cultivating medical-grade cannabis.

After completion of the first phase of focused education, students will begin a second phase that includes entrepreneur and business development training. This means, assistance with developing a business plan and the filing of required business documentation. Those who complete the initial two phases of training will be offered a job or internship with Riviera Creek Holdings or the opportunity to maintain and grow a hemp crop for their own hemp-based business. To support the program, URC has received a grant from the Hawthorne Social Justice Fund to help students buy land or cover the startup costs of their business.

“We at Riviera are intending to help build the overall course work, what it looks like and as they graduate, Riviera is intending to bring some of those in-house so they wind up with jobs right after graduation and we’re excited for that program to begin,” said Daniel Kessler, COO of Riviera Creek Holdings.

More Jobs Would Come with Adult-Use Legalization

Although Ohio’s cannabis industry is currently limited to serving medical marijuana patients, legislators and activists are currently working to legalize cannabis for all adults. In July, two Democratic state representatives from the Cleveland area introduced legislation that would legalize, tax and regulate adult-use cannabis. A separate effort by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was given approval to begin circulating petitions by state officials last month.

“It’s at the phase where it needs signatures,” said Daniel Kessler, who supports the effort to legalize recreational cannabis. “The goal is to approve adult use over the age of 21.”

Daniel Kessler said that Riviera Creek Holdings supports legal cannabis for adults as a way to replace the current system that forces consumers to accept untested and potentially unsafe cannabis while illicit cannabis operators face the threat of imprisonment.

“All of that becomes problematic for everybody,” he said. “If we can replace that with something that generates tax dollars for the state, controlled by the legislative body, works much like the medical program, and has social justice aspects to it – it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

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