New York Regulators Approve Home Cultivation of Medical Marijuana

Regulators with New York’s Cannabis Control Board issued proposed regulations to govern the home cultivation of medical marijuana last week, following through on a provision of the state’s comprehensive cannabis reform legislation passed earlier this year. The new rules approved on October 21, which are now subject to a 60-day public comment period, would allow registered marijuana patients and caregivers to grow up to six cannabis plants at home.

“With today’s vote, we are advancing these measures for the home cultivation of medical cannabis for the public’s input as we continue to expand the program and give more New Yorkers access to this medicine and the relief it provides,” Cannabis Control Board chair Tremaine Wright said in a statement from the agency.

New Regulatory Board In Action

Approving home cultivation of medical marijuana is the first major step by the Cannabis Control Board to implement the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which was passed by New York lawmakers and signed into law by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in March. The legislation included provisions for the home growing of cannabis by medical marijuana patients, but only after rules were drafted by the board.

Cuomo, however, failed to appoint members to the newly created Cannabis Control Board as mandated by the legislation over reported disagreements with New York state lawmakers over leadership of the panel. Following Cuomo’s resignation in August, incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her nominations to the board in September, naming former Brooklyn Assemblywoman Wright as board chair and former Drug Policy Alliance staff member Chris Alexander as executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management. The nominations were confirmed by lawmakers on September 1, but the delay led the board to miss a deadline to issue home cultivation rules within four months of pass of the MRTA.

“Thanks to the quick action by Governor Hochul and the Legislature in appointing the Board and agency leadership, we are moving full-steam ahead and look forward to continuing to expand the medical program and building a new industry that will operate safely and deliver opportunity to the communities most harmed by the war on drugs,” Wright added.

New Rules Allow Up to Six Medical Marijuana Plants

Under the newly proposed medical marijuana home cultivation regulations, registered patients and caregivers working on a patient’s behalf would be permitted to grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home. The rules set a cap of up to six mature and six immature plants within or on the grounds of any private residence. Patients are limited to one caregiver growing for their needs. Caregivers with more than one patient are allowed to grow one additional plant for every patient they have above the first six.

The proposed regulations also contain several provisions designed to protect the health and safety of patients and communities. Plants and cannabis products must be kept in a secure location that incorporates reasonable measures including locks and security devices to ensure that cannabis is not accessible to persons less than 21 years old. Plants must be cultivated out of public view and growers must take reasonable steps to mitigate undesirable odors.

Additionally, processing cannabis at home with any liquid or gas, other than alcohol, that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not permitted. The regulations also stipulate that all forms of cannabis including seeds, immature and mature plants, and marijuana flower can not be sold or bartered to another person by anyone except a licensed entity.

“Home cultivation will give medical patients and their caregivers another way to access needed medication,” said Assembly Health Committee chair and original medical marijuana bill sponsor Richard Gottfried. “This follows the important recent addition of whole flower to the medical program, expansion of eligible practitioners, and removal of patient registration fees. I commend Governor Hochul and the Cannabis Control Board for another step towards a progressive, accessible medical cannabis program.”

Board Also Receives Update On Expungement

At the October 21 meeting of the Cannabis Control Board, Alexander updated on the status of the efforts to expunge the records of past marijuana offenses, a justice reform provision of the MRTA adopted to help address the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws. So far, approximately 198,000 records were expunged in a first round of record-clearing and another 203,000 cannabis-related charges are being suppressed from criminal background checks while in the expungement process.

“The MRTA reformed New York’s criminal justice system and strives to end decades of disproportionate enforcement of New York’s marijuana laws,” Alexander said. “A key component of these reforms is the expungement of past criminal convictions for individuals with previous convictions for activities that are no longer criminalized. When completed the actions of the 2019 and 2021 laws will have expunged the records of over 400,000 New Yorkers – a staggering reminder the impact that cannabis prohibition had on so many lives.”

The post New York Regulators Approve Home Cultivation of Medical Marijuana appeared first on Cannabis Now.

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.

The post What’s Happening in New York Now That Cannabis is Legal? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

4/20 Exclusive: Legal Cannabis on Wall Street

On a bright and unseasonably warm April 20, 2021 in New York City, you could stand in a blocks-long line and wait for a free joint in Union Square as police watched and did nothing. Or you could dip into a particular rathskeller on Broad Street in the Financial District, within throwing distance of the New York Stock Exchange. Underground, Vladimir Bautista and Ramon Reyes were working the room at their “coming back” party. If nearby, you likely caught a whiff of what they believe the next 4/20, and every other day in the not-so-distant future, will look like in a post-legalization New York.

Two friends from Uptown with Dominican roots who love weed, Bautista and Reyes had a conversion after Reyes visited Amsterdam and its cannabis coffee shops. Already “involved” with cannabis in that familiar gray-area kind of way, they decided to open up an Amsterdam-style coffee shop in New York. But there was a slight problem: this was before March 31, 2021, so cannabis was illegal. 

Undaunted, in 2017 the pair launched Happy Munkey, which for tax purposes is a New York City cannabis-inspired lifestyle brand and registered state LLC. For practical purposes, Happy Munkey was one of New York City’s pre-legalization marijuana speakeasies.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Happy Munkey (@happymunkeygoodies)

Happy Munkey was essentially an Amsterdam-style cannabis coffee shop, located a short walk from Times Square and the new luxury high-rise apartments at Hudson Yards. To get in, you had to know somebody, or you had to know Happy Munkey existed—which, given the gift of Instagram, wasn’t particularly challenging. 

However, an inevitable visit from the police followed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic six months later put Happy Munkey’s cannabis pursuits on pause. In the interim, Happy Munkey endured. Bautista and Reyes sold t-shirts, ashtrays, grinders and rolling trays. They hired a publicist and started a magazine (and they may or may not have entered the delivery service game). 

They also participated in the lobbying blitz that preceded Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in Albany passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. And almost exactly three weeks after Cuomo signed the bill making public cannabis use absolutely legal in the country’s largest city, the duo threw Tuesday’s 4/20 party in the basement of an old restaurant, just steps away from the physical centers of global capital: Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. 

For the first legal 4/20 in New York City, the setting was fitting. Federal prohibition means cannabis companies still can’t list on American exchanges, but as the world’s most popular illicit drug becomes a legal commodity, there’s certainly an avalanche of investment coming. The trick is to stay involved.  

Staking A Claim 

It will be at least a year before New York state licenses anyone to grow, process or sell cannabis, but there is no time to waste. One of the harsh lessons of marijuana legalization from the 14 states that legalized before New York, is that being “first”—or getting in “before” the thing is legal—in no way guarantees a stake in the legal game. 

On Tuesday, Happy Munkey sent a strong statement with a dual purpose of announcing their “come back” while also staking a claim. In New York, the pre-legalization pioneers will absolutely participate in the post-legalization industry—in some way or another. Just try to stop them. 

But in the meantime, there was the still-surreal sight of a cannabis party, ongoing while people openly smoked cannabis in the street, as bored police stood idly by up the block. 

“It’s a historic day, it’s a historic location,” a besuited Bautista said Tuesday, as a steady line of partygoers shuffled into the basement-level space, still equipped with an imposing vault door from its days used as a waystation for cash and hard specie a century ago. 

Eugenio Garcia (Publisher of Cannabis Now), Vladimir Bautista (Happy Munkey), David Hess (Tress Capital) at Bobby Van’s in NYC on April 20, 2021.

A gregarious man with a smooth head, neatly trimmed beard and enormous smile, Bautista wore a blue suit over a luxe v-neck. Full of kinetic energy, he bounced around the room on loafers, pulling away from one hug and handshake to embrace another. Hosting a 4/20 party in the heart of American capitalism wasn’t an intentional move—they could have rented a bigger place, someplace else in New York—but “it all fit together,” Bautista explained. And as metaphor, it was spot on. 

“This is what the future is going to be,” Bautista declared. Meaning: legal weed in New York City with brown guys from Uptown deeply involved.

Happy Munkey charged $100 a head, a cover that earned you a poker chip you could exchange for $100 (or more, if you reached back into your wallet) of cannabis flower, edibles, pre-rolls or cartridges at a dispensary table set up in the former restaurant’s old wine room. At the bar, you could order a $25 cocktail infused with 5 milligrams of THC. Past the vault door were the VIP tables, where you could enjoy bottle service for $5,000, as well as a gift-basket’s worth of cannabis treats: branded flower in California-familiar bags, powerful edibles and vaporizer cartridges, to name a few. Since New York’s new legalization law allows one to be “gifted” cannabis, and since guests were paying money simply to be there, the arrangement was technically legal.

In case it wasn’t obvious Happy Munkey had graduated from underground status, floating around the room, rubbing elbows with the mix of investors, entrepreneurs, brand ambassadors, influencers and terpene-scented hangers-on that appear at cannabis fetes the world over, were members of Gov. Cuomo’s staff from Albany. “I know,” Bautista grinned, all brash charm. “I invited them.”

The party’s dress code included masks, which Happy Munkey politely requested guests to wear “when not consuming.” But within a few minutes of entering, noses appeared, masks hung from ears or slipped below chins. Like prohibition, the evil energy of the pandemic seemed to be finally clearing, too. And the next thing is on its way. 

World’s Biggest Market?

“It’s going to be California, times ten,” said Ruben Lindo. A former pro football player with an MBA from NYU, Lindo owns a CBD brand in New York and THC flower brands in two legal states—plus 36 acres of land in upstate New York, where he wants to start cultivating, he said. Lindo offered a version of the conventional wisdom regarding New York’s future as a marijuana marketplace, as well as the evening’s general consensus. “This is the biggest consumer market in the world,” he said. And while Happy Munkey grabbed a foothold by being bold and being early, stepping out is not standing out. “Winning” after legalization will take more.

And you do not come to Wall Street to simply be a name in the boroughs, or to have a one-night event on 4/20. You come here for it all. Bautista wants Happy Munkey to be a global chain of branded consumption lounges, with franchises in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. It’s a vision he has just enough time to outline before peeling away to hug someone else. It’s all happening. You can feel it. As big as open cannabis use in New York is, this is very much still just a beginning. 

The post 4/20 Exclusive: Legal Cannabis on Wall Street appeared first on Cannabis Now.

4/20 Exclusive: Legal Cannabis in New York City

On a bright and unseasonably warm April 20, 2021 in New York City, you could stand in a blocks-long line and wait for a free joint in Union Square as police watched and did nothing. Or you could dip into a particular rathskeller on Broad Street in the Financial District, within throwing distance of the New York Stock Exchange. Underground, Vladimir Bautista and Ramon Reyes were working the room at their “coming back” party. If nearby, you likely caught a whiff of what they believe the next 4/20, and every other day in the not-so-distant future, will look like in a post-legalization New York.

Two friends from Uptown with Dominican roots who love weed, Bautista and Reyes had a conversion after Reyes visited Amsterdam and its cannabis coffee shops. Already “involved” with cannabis in that familiar gray-area kind of way, they decided to open up an Amsterdam-style coffee shop in New York. But there was a slight problem: this was before March 31, 2021, so cannabis was illegal. 

Undaunted, in 2017 the pair launched Happy Munkey, which for tax purposes is a New York City cannabis-inspired lifestyle brand and registered state LLC. For practical purposes, Happy Munkey was one of New York City’s pre-legalization marijuana speakeasies.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Happy Munkey (@happymunkeygoodies)

Happy Munkey was essentially an Amsterdam-style cannabis coffee shop, located a short walk from Times Square and the new luxury high-rise apartments at Hudson Yards. To get in, you had to know somebody, or you had to know Happy Munkey existed—which, given the gift of Instagram, wasn’t particularly challenging. 

However, an inevitable visit from the police followed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic six months later put Happy Munkey’s cannabis pursuits on pause. In the interim, Happy Munkey endured. Bautista and Reyes sold t-shirts, ashtrays, grinders and rolling trays. They hired a publicist and started a magazine (and they may or may not have entered the delivery service game). 

They also participated in the lobbying blitz that preceded Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in Albany passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. And almost exactly three weeks after Cuomo signed the bill making public cannabis use absolutely legal in the country’s largest city, the duo threw Tuesday’s 4/20 party in the basement of an old restaurant, just steps away from the physical centers of global capital: Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. 

For the first legal 4/20 in New York City, the setting was fitting. Federal prohibition means cannabis companies still can’t list on American exchanges, but as the world’s most popular illicit drug becomes a legal commodity, there’s certainly an avalanche of investment coming. The trick is to stay involved.  

Staking A Claim 

It will be at least a year before New York state licenses anyone to grow, process or sell cannabis, but there is no time to waste. One of the harsh lessons of marijuana legalization from the 14 states that legalized before New York, is that being “first”—or getting in “before” the thing is legal—in no way guarantees a stake in the legal game. 

On Tuesday, Happy Munkey sent a strong statement with a dual purpose of announcing their “come back” while also staking a claim. In New York, the pre-legalization pioneers will absolutely participate in the post-legalization industry—in some way or another. Just try to stop them. 

But in the meantime, there was the still-surreal sight of a cannabis party, ongoing while people openly smoked cannabis in the street, as bored police stood idly by up the block. 

“It’s a historic day, it’s a historic location,” a besuited Bautista said Tuesday, as a steady line of partygoers shuffled into the basement-level space, still equipped with an imposing vault door from its days used as a waystation for cash and hard specie a century ago. 

Eugenio Garcia (Publisher of Cannabis Now), Vladimir Bautista (Happy Munkey), David Hess (Tress Capital) at Bobby Van’s in NYC on April 20, 2021.

A gregarious man with a smooth head, neatly trimmed beard and enormous smile, Bautista wore a blue suit over a luxe v-neck. Full of kinetic energy, he bounced around the room on loafers, pulling away from one hug and handshake to embrace another. Hosting a 4/20 party in the heart of American capitalism wasn’t an intentional move—they could have rented a bigger place, someplace else in New York—but “it all fit together,” Bautista explained. And as metaphor, it was spot on. 

“This is what the future is going to be,” Bautista declared. Meaning: legal weed in New York City with brown guys from Uptown deeply involved.

Happy Munkey charged $100 a head, a cover that earned you a poker chip you could exchange for $100 (or more, if you reached back into your wallet) of cannabis flower, edibles, pre-rolls or cartridges at a dispensary table set up in the former restaurant’s old wine room. At the bar, you could order a $25 cocktail infused with 5 milligrams of THC. Past the vault door were the VIP tables, where you could enjoy bottle service for $5,000, as well as a gift-basket’s worth of cannabis treats: branded flower in California-familiar bags, powerful edibles and vaporizer cartridges, to name a few. Since New York’s new legalization law allows one to be “gifted” cannabis, and since guests were paying money simply to be there, the arrangement was technically legal.

In case it wasn’t obvious Happy Munkey had graduated from underground status, floating around the room, rubbing elbows with the mix of investors, entrepreneurs, brand ambassadors, influencers and terpene-scented hangers-on that appear at cannabis fetes the world over, were members of Gov. Cuomo’s staff from Albany. “I know,” Bautista grinned, all brash charm. “I invited them.”

The party’s dress code included masks, which Happy Munkey politely requested guests to wear “when not consuming.” But within a few minutes of entering, noses appeared, masks hung from ears or slipped below chins. Like prohibition, the evil energy of the pandemic seemed to be finally clearing, too. And the next thing is on its way. 

World’s Biggest Market?

“It’s going to be California, times ten,” said Ruben Lindo. A former pro football player with an MBA from NYU, Lindo owns a CBD brand in New York and THC flower brands in two legal states—plus 36 acres of land in upstate New York, where he wants to start cultivating, he said. Lindo offered a version of the conventional wisdom regarding New York’s future as a marijuana marketplace, as well as the evening’s general consensus. “This is the biggest consumer market in the world,” he said. And while Happy Munkey grabbed a foothold by being bold and being early, stepping out is not standing out. “Winning” after legalization will take more.

And you do not come to Wall Street to simply be a name in the boroughs, or to have a one-night event on 4/20. You come here for it all. Bautista wants Happy Munkey to be a global chain of branded consumption lounges, with franchises in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. It’s a vision he has just enough time to outline before peeling away to hug someone else. It’s all happening. You can feel it. As big as open cannabis use in New York is, this is very much still just a beginning. 

The post 4/20 Exclusive: Legal Cannabis in New York City appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Cuomo Pledges Legal Cannabis for New York in 2020, But Where’s the Equity?

New York state cannabis advocates were bitterly disappointed last year, when two rival legalization measures both failed to pass at the end of the state’s legislative session in June. One of those measures — pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and generally disfavored by activists — has just been revised and reintroduced. 

The state’s cannabis community is still parsing the details. But there is some skepticism as to whether the bill lives up to Cuomo’s promises on crafting a legalization model with a sense of social equity.

Cuomo’s Proposal: The Big Print 


For the second year in a row, Cuomo has introduced a cannabis legalization measure in the state budget. In a budget outline released on Jan. 21, Cuomo calls for a “comprehensive regulatory approach to legalize cannabis.” The move follows through on a pledge the governor made just two weeks earlier in his annual State of the State address, in which he openly said: “Let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.” 

Cuomo’s budget calls for creating a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee “medical, adult-use and hemp programs.” In other words, all aspects of the cannabis plant would be regulated by one agency. Under the adult-use system, those over 21 will be able to legally purchase from licensed retailers. The state will also establish a “Global Cannabis & Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education” within the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

The outline explicitly addresses the question of equity: “The proposal will also correct past harms to individuals and communities that have disproportionately been impacted by prohibition.”

This likewise echoes rhetoric from Cuomo’s State of the State speech, when he said: “For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws.”

And the budget outline reiterates Cuomo’s call last year for a regional bloc of Northeast states that embrace legalization and work together to have similar laws. In his plan, Cuomo notes he wants to work with Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania on cannabis laws. 

press statement plugging the budget plan touted it as a “nation-leading regulatory structure to regulate and control adult-use marijuana to ensure displacement of the illicit market, safeguard public health and safety, and encourage participation by communities and stakeholders that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”


The Chances of Success for New York Pot in 2020

Some cannabis boosters are optimistic about Cuomo’s proposal.

“It’ll really be a gigantic market,” Morgan Fox of the National Cannabis Industry Association told CNN Business, noting New York’s large population, huge tourist draw and financial hub status. New York legalizing would “have ripples in global policy when it comes to cannabis,” he said.

But there is potential for another political logjam. The alternative measure that failed to pass last year was the Marijuana Taxation & Regulation Act (MRTA), and because New York runs on a two-year legislative cycle, it is officially still pending. And, again, Cuomo is hoping his measure will be ushered in along with the rest of the budget (although last year it was excised before the budget passed). In announcing the new measure in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, he was fairly explicit about this aim. 

“I believe it is best done in the budget,” he told reporters. “I believe the budget is the opportunity frankly to make some tough decisions and work through tough issues that without the budget can often languish.”

So there is a sense of deja vu here. The Democrats taking the state Senate for the first time in years in the 2018 midterm elections resulted in a flurry of progressive legislation. But with cannabis legalization still stalled, there are now ominous forebodings of backlash in the Empire State.

The New York Times notes that Cuomo and his fellow Democrats are facing political fallout from a new law that sharply reduces the use of cash bail in favor of releasing arrestees on their “own recognizance,” in an effort to reduce jail populations. The law took effect on New Year’s Day — and was immediately followed by concerns over a rash of anti-Semitic attacks, some said to have been committed by perps released under the new law. Even Cuomo himself has already broached a tightening of the law.

Meanwhile, the MRTA advocates — who had viewed Cuomo’s 2019 legalization measure as too restrictive, and lacking sufficient equity measures — are weighing whether his new measure is worth supporting. 

Some measures in the MRTA did get spun off into separate legislation that was passed last year. These include the expungement of thousands of low-level cannabis convictions, and closing the “public view loophole,” which allowed police to keep making marijuana arrests despite the decriminalization that has been in place in the state since 1977 — either for public smoking, or if suspects can be intimidated into showing cops their stash during a street stop. Under the reform package passed last June (kind of a consolation prize to activists in lieu of legalization), public use of pot has been dropped from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

But advocates insist there is much more to be done.

The Racial Disparities in New York Pot Policing

The racial disparity in cannabis arrests survived decriminalization, and has survived the new policy in New York City of de-emphasizing pot arrests. Will it also survive legalization?

New York City Health Department report released in September of last year revealed that in the city, white folks use marijuana at a significantly higher rate than black folks—and at a rate twice as high as Latinos. However, based on police stats filed with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, black and Latin New Yorkers accounted for a staggering 94% of all low-level cannabis arrests in New York City during the first six months of 2019. The NYPD arrested 1,436 people for possession or sale from January to June — with 1,349 identified as black or Hispanic.

And this was despite a “commitment to fair and equitable cannabis legalization” announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in December 2018, when the Mayor’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization turned in its recommendations.

Six months later, the city had still not closed the racial gap in cannabis busts.

The Start Smart NY website, which was launched to promote the MRTA, states: “Marijuana possession is one of the top misdemeanor arrests in New York State — and has been for the last twenty years. As a result, nearly one million New Yorkers have had contact with the criminal justice system — the overwhelming majority of whom, more than 80 percent — are Black and Latino, despite similar rates of consumption across racial and ethnic groups.”

In 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney joined the Brooklyn DA in announcing that his office would no longer prosecute low-level pot busts. With the election of Melinda Katz as Queens DA last year, another of New York City’s five boroughs has joined this policy. Katz promised she will “refuse to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests within Queens and will instead urge the legislature to legalize adult recreational cannabis and expunge all convictions for past arrests,” according to her campaign website

But Melissa Moore, deputy state director for New York with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Cannabis Now that these policies have still failed to close the racial gap.

“There have been 800,000 cannabis arrests in New York state over the past 20 years, despite the 1977 law. With the new policies, arrest numbers have come down but the disparity has gotten worse,” Moore said. “It just shows the urgency of cannabis legalization in New York — it is clear that decrim has never been enough.”

Cuomo’s Proposal: The Small Print 


But will even legalization be enough?

Upon release of Cuomo’s new proposal, DPA policy director Kassandra Frederique issued a statement applauding the progress — but finding that the equity measures are insufficient.

“We are pleased to see Governor Cuomo’s commitment to passing comprehensive marijuana legalization in the state budget this year, and to see him include social equity and small business incubator programs,” Frederique wrote. “We are disappointed Governor Cuomo doesn’t clearly guarantee that a portion of funds from marijuana sales will be reinvested into the communities most harmed by New York’s marijuana arrest crusade. Without this necessary component, the Governor’s proposal will not truly right the wrongs done to communities of color by disproportionate enforcement of marijuana.” 

The continuance of disproportionate arrests, however, will be contingent on continued loopholes in the law. Still processing the text of Cuomo’s proposed legislation is David Holland, a New York City criminal defense attorney who is both president of the NYC Cannabis Industry Association and executive director of Empire State NORML. Speaking to Cannabis Now, Holland noted one loophole from existing law that survives in Cuomo’s new proposal: cannabis concentrates, presumably including hashish as well as oils and extracts, do not appear to be covered in the legalization.

Under New York State law, “marijuana” (now renamed “cannabis” under Cuomo’s proposal) falls under Penal Law 221, and has been decriminalized since 1977. But extracts and concentrates fall under Penal Law 220, for general “controlled substances,” with much harsher penalties.

“You can get busted for a concentrate and get booked on a ‘controlled substance’ offense,” Holland says. “That’s how they’ve been getting around this problem, and the new bill does not appear to change that.”

Holland adds that “the ‘public nuisance’ loophole will always remain” — although the new bill seems vague on how that is defined. 

As long as loopholes in any legalization law persist, it’s a pretty good bet that racist enforcement will persist too. In the coming weeks, New York activists will have to decide whether Cuomo’s proposal sufficiently closes the loopholes, and sufficiently addresses equity concerns — or whether they will stick with the MRTA, at risk of the Legislature remaining divided over rival legalization bills.

TELL US, do you think New York will legalize pot in 2020?

The post Cuomo Pledges Legal Cannabis for New York in 2020, But Where’s the Equity? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Push for the Best Legalization

On Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said his state should legalize cannabis. In his State of the State address, Cuomo promised his state would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over.

Cuomo tried this last year and it didn’t work out, but not because marijuana legalization is a bad idea. Broadly speaking, it’s a good idea, and you should support it. According to most every poll, you probably do.

If you don’t, you are either a cop, or a creep. Maybe, both! If you are neither, or if that’s what you claim, now’s a fine time to check yourself, and figure out how you’ve become a fellow traveler with the kind of people who go on Tucker Carlson to tie cannabis to mass shootings — because that’s exactly what you’ve managed to do.

One undeniable unexpected consequence of marijuana legalization is that it’s created a bunch of enemies of marijuana legalization among people who smoke weed. In California, home to America’s oldest established cannabis economy — for purposes of this argument, let’s call a structured, recognizable, and at times legal supply chain and marketplace an “established” one — legalization has become a loaded word. In 2020, it is very easy, online or off, to find weedheads who curse legalization, even as they fire up joints along Lake Merritt in full view of bored Oakland police.

For these souls, the most cursed number in the universe of digits is 64, for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Prop. 64, the devil’s bargain that, in their analysis, took a perfectly good thing — medical cannabis, “Prop. 215,” the world of shady doctors offices, affordable but questionable pot, and enemies on all sides, on all levels of government, happy to take it all down at a moment’s notice — and messed it all up, transforming pure and righteous cannabis culture into something corporatized and capitalized, all bad and awful.

This is a result of conflating chronology with cause. It is true that in California, after voters approved Prop. 64 in Nov. 2016, the price of cannabis skyrocketed, opportunity to enter the industry constricted, and many legacy operators — farmers, sellers, and whatnot — have not been allowed into the new, many-billions-of-dollars industry. That’s all bad! But guess what? That’s not legalization’s fault. If you don’t like all that, your beef is with regulation, and the exact nature of how legalization came about. Seems to me like you don’t like crony capitalism, or financialized markets, or corruption. And yes, all these are bad! But I have news for you: legalization did not create these, and these all existed prior to Prop. 64.

Of course, you might be a libertarian, or an anarchist. In which case, you might believe that any form of regulation or government intrusion into your life is an affront. If this is so, OK. When you find your Utopia where you grow your own food, police your own self, and otherwise are able to exist without laws or strictures imposed upon you by a society of people with whom you must share space and resources, please stay there, and don’t call me. The realistic among us will recognize that even an anarchist commune has agreed-upon standards of behavior. For those people, those who are still upset with how legalization’s played out in California, and may be compelled to warn New Yorkers or others not to make the same mistake, I sympathize with you — to a point.

I agree that many aspects of pre-legalization life worked better. For me. I will always remember the 2017 Emerald Cup as the apogee of what cannabis could be. I miss being able to buy untrimmed branches of flower from Empress Farms, different types of jars of boutique pot, edibles in containers that did not require a hacksaw to open. I, too, miss the host of cultivators, edibles makers, and other genuine weirdos, freaks, and rebels that grew and sold the weed I smoked for most of my life. Most of them were very cool, and I prefer them to being beset by brands. I think it’s absurd that joining a regulated market can cost a farmer in Mendocino County $50,000, and that the state isn’t making, say, business loans available to legal farmers as an incentive. I think taxing cannabis that’s unsold is foolish, and I think charging $80 or more for an eighth of cannabis is borderline criminal.

But that’s the irony here. All the complaints about the privations of the legal economy miss the point. Underground farmers made $3,000 a pound because cannabis was illegal everywhere else. Everything you liked about a pre-Prop. 64 environment came at an immense cost, one that apparently the complainants didn’t see, either because they were isolated from it or they chose not to acknowledge it — or, worst, they knew exactly what the human cost was and didn’t care, because everything was OK for them.

Because, you see, the pre-legalization world was terrible for many more people, the people whom our society abuses, impoverishes, and robs of privilege the most.

Let me illustrate what I mean. A common complaint about New York, the country’s largest city, the hometown of our president and the cultural whatever-you-want-to-call-it of America and Americanism, is not that it’s crowded, or corrupt, or inhospitable —though all those are true. It’s that New York smells like weed. Try to understand what a sea change that is. For many years, New York was the per capita capital of marijuana arrests in the United States. New York cops hauled away more people, per capita, than police in Oklahoma, or whatever other red state you might fool yourself into thinking was hell on earth for weedheads, pre-legalization.

With this context, here’s an anecdote for you: A friend and colleague’s husband was walking home from work one day. He had a backpack on. A squat, stocky fellow in street clothes fell into step beside him, and demanded to know what was in the backpack and why he’d just thrown away a joint. A struggle ensued. The stocky fellow’s partner appeared, flashed his badge — they were both undercover cops — and put my acquaintance, a doctor on his way home from the hospital, in cuffs, and led him away to jail, where he spent the night, on the charge of “destruction of evidence,” discarding the phantom joint that he never had. It happens that my acquaintance, being a young doctor, had resources, sued the NYPD and won a settlement that helped pay for school! Many, many others have not had that luxury. Stuff like this happened on the regular before legalization — and now it doesn’t. Now New York smells like weed, and cops have to do something other than waste my money and yours on frivolous “busts.”

How’d that come about? Colorado and Washington legalized, then Oregon and Alaska, then Nevada and California and Massachusetts and Maine, and Michigan and Illinois. A bad old policy became untenable.

It is true that black and brown people are still, at times, jacked up for weed in New York. That is because our society is one founded on genocide, and slavery. It’s also true it’s hard to get a business opportunity in cannabis if you are not white and male and thus possess wealth and influence disproportionately to those who are darker, or women. All this, and pricey weed, and local bans, are because of how legalization is implemented, or how cannabis is regulated, or how America is in reality. I encourage you to agitate against these ills and advocate changes, and push for the best legalization. The alternative is arguing that the status quo, before, was okay. Maybe it was, for you. I can assure you that for many more, it was not. 

That’s why Andrew Cuomo has to try to legalize cannabis again this year, because the version pushed last year didn’t go far enough, didn’t help out the people who had been harmed. That’s admirable. So is pushing for lower taxes, saner regulations, and more inclusivity — for changing a legal landscape into something functional, and equitable, and sound. What’s not is pining for a bygone golden age, when others suffered, or did not enjoy your privileges, so you could make more money, or buy cheaper pot. Doing that makes you a giant, raging jerk. If you’re cool with that, great. Own it. If not, now’s a fine time to adjust.

TELL US, are you in a state that has changed its cannabis laws? What have you experienced?

The post Push for the Best Legalization appeared first on Cannabis Now.

3 Worrying Cannabis Trends to Watch in 2020

Amid an overall trend of progress for cannabis freedom, there are a few worrying tendencies that industry and activists alike will need to be vigilant about in 2020.

These concern both the actual shape of the legal industry as it unfolds, and the dangers of a prohibitionist backlash against it. It looks likely that corporate cannabis will increase pressure on independent producers, while prohibitionists will try to leverage the vaping health scare for anti-cannabis propaganda. And the cannabis industry’s own terminology may be actually adding to the confusion.

1)    The Growing Power of Corporate Cannabis  

The news that CBD products will be arriving at Walgreens and CVS drugstores can be seen as further progress for the normalization of cannabis. But cannabis can also be subject to the same abuses as any other commodity in the legal economy — and the increasing elite corporate control of the plant is obvious. 

Despite legal restrictions due to high-THC cannabis remaining illegal under U.S. federal law, strains are being patented. Strains that were long a part of the genetic commons are at risk of being privatized. And independent growers using heirloom seed are at risk of being marginalized in the pricey niche market of “craft cannabis.”

This trend is especially obvious in Canada, where licensed producers are pushing out independent growers and home-growers. Dispensaries which had been operating under a legal “gray zone” in Toronto and Vancouver are being raided and shut down, supplanted by a smaller number of dispensaries licensed under the regulatory regime put in place with legalization last October. It’s true that many “gray-zone” dispensaries have been re-opening, but authorities in Toronto recently took an unsubtle step to prevent this: building big cement-brick barriers between the raided storefronts and the sidewalks. This is certainly not what we expected “legalization” to look like.

Under the Canadian regulations, “craft cannabis” producers do have a place — but they must sell to one of the big licensed producers that serve as intermediaries to the retail outlets. This means they are effectively prohibited from acting as independent operators. 

Amid all this, two provinces have actually sought to outlaw home cultivation, essentially forcing consumers to buy corporate cannabis: Quebec and Manitoba. In Quebec, the ban was thankfully overturned by the provincial courts in September. But the one in Manitoba still stands. And in what seems almost like a revenge move, shortly after the overturn of the homegrown ban the Quebec government moved to raise the legal age of cannabis consumption from 18 to 21. The new law is to take effect Jan. 1. 

While many activists and advocates anticipate legal cannabis coming to America soon, it’s important that we look at Canada as a model and take steps to protect small farmers.

2)    The Prohibitionist Exploitation of the Vape Scare

The vaping-related health scare, which has now claimed some 50 lives across the United States, is obviously a very real and urgent concern. And it is just as obviously providing a ripe atmosphere for exploitation by anti-cannabis advocates that want to put the genie of legal cannabis back in the proverbial bottle — logic and rationality be damned.

A recent case in point is a Philadelphia Inquirer article of Dec. 27, under the lurid headline, “For young users, marijuana can be a dangerous game.” It states: “In this year’s mysterious rash of vaping-related lung injuries… many involved vaping THC products. While the CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as ‘a chemical of concern’ in these cases, it’s just one of many substances present in vaping oils and liquids. The CDC has said the mystery of these illnesses is far from solved and has recommended that people not use any THC-containing e-cigarette products.”

Yet “marijuana” is not an “e-cigarette product,” and it does not contain vitamin E acetate or any of the other unnamed “substances” found in vaping oils and liquids. Contrary to what is implied by the headline, herbaceous cannabis flower is one of the safest ways to consume cannabis, particularly when it comes from a regulated dispensary and has been tested for pesticides, molds and other contaminants. Indeed, people are turning to illegal vape pens in states where cannabis prohibition still reigns precisely because safely tested herbaceous flower is not available.

New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo contributed to the confusion in an embarrassing September interview with CNBC, in which he was doggedly questioned on whether the wave of vaping-related illness had made him reconsider pursuing cannabis legalization. “No,” he replied — but quickly added that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana,” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.” 

Yet “smoking marijuana” (or vaping marijuana) is the safer alternative to vaping extracts and especially to vaping from an illict-market vape-pen.

However, logic might win out in the end. Take Massachusetts: In September, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products. Cannabis advocates pushed back that there was nothing inherently dangerous in a cannabis vape, and in December, the state allowed the vape ban to end. The smart solution: those cannabis vapes would have to pass additional testing to prove they did not contain vitamin E acetate.

3)    The Ongoing Semantic Confusion Between ‘Cannabis’ & ‘Marijuana’

The uproar over cannabis vapes brings us to another worrying problem facing the cannabis industry: the need for more education on what exactly “cannabis” means.  

Unfortunately, the terminology increasingly favored by the cannabis industry and advocacy community is also contributing the confused intellectual climate. Under the new dogma, use of the word “marijuana” is increasingly verboten, either because it harkens back to the racism of Harry Anslinger or because it helps aid the “normalization” cause to refer to the plant by its scientific name.  

Meanwhile, the word “cannabis” is becoming a catch-all for any products derived from cannabis — including the extracts and oils in vape pens and including hemp products that contain less than 0.3% THC. As a means of eroding the stigma, this is obviously counter-productive — because it blurs the distinction between a cured flower and a refined extract, and the distinction between a plant that is federally legal and one that isn’t. It makes rhetorical booby-traps like the one Cuomo blundered into all the more effective.

If the word “marijuana” is to be erased from our vocabulary, then there must be another one to denote dried and cured cannabis flower, typically that containing enough THC for a psychoactive effect. Using the word “cannabis” in a sweeping and imprecise way thickens the cloud of obfuscation around the whole question, and ultimately abets the forces of cultural backlash.

In my opinion, rejecting the word “marijuana” is in some ways a capitulation to the stigma — and a capitulation to racism, as that word is associated with the stigma precisely because it emphasizes the plant’s Mexican roots in North America. Anti-Mexican xenophobia was deftly exploited in the prohibitionist propaganda campaign of the “Reefer Madness” era in the 1930s. And given the current climate in this country, accepting the stigmatization of something (whether a word or a plant) because of its Mexican origins holds obvious political dangers.

In 2020, it might be time to say it loud: “I smoke marijuana and I’m proud!”

TELL US, what do you think will happen to cannabis in 2020?

The post 3 Worrying Cannabis Trends to Watch in 2020 appeared first on Cannabis Now.