Driving High is Illegal: But What is Driving High?

In April 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and a coterie of other state lawmakers and public-safety officials launched a firm yet nebulous public-safety campaign warning people that they shouldn’t be driving high. The initiative pulled off the neat trick of informing citizens that certain behavior is prohibited, without telling citizens exactly what that behavior is.

Called “Cannabis Conversations,” the campaign will be emphasized in an upcoming series of billboards, commercial sports and other public service announcements (PSAs) to complement similar warnings against drunk driving. But what, exactly, is “driving high?” Unlike drunk driving, that’s not something Hochul—nor anyone else in states where cannabis is legal—has been able to satisfactorily define.

Nevertheless, Hochul is the latest public official to highlight a curious situation that’s proven one of the more complex and nagging problems to arise during the marijuana legalization era.

Burden of Proof, Body of Doubt

In one sense, driving while high is not unlike pornography: You know it when you see it—if “you” are a law-enforcement official who’s a drug-recognition expert, determining whether to write a ticket or make an arrest for a misdemeanor offense.

Under New York state law, drunk driving and driving high are outlawed under the same criminal statute. But unlike the first wave of states to legalize cannabis, there’s no strict “legal limit” for cannabis impairment in New York. This is because other states such as Colorado have ditched limits like the initial standard of five nanograms of cannabis metabolite per milliliter of blood—because, unlike alcohol, cannabis metabolites are detectable in the human body long after the effects have worn off. For that reason, New York state law has no “per se” standard for impairment.

So, while this standard may be workable while out on the road, where a law enforcement officer can use various metrics, i.e., erratic driving, to make a stop and other metrics to determine impairment—slurred speech, red eyes, the scent of cannabis—it’s unclear what will happen in court, where defense attorneys were winning too many “stoned driving” cases.

In an e-mail, Jason Gough, a spokesman for New York’s governor, reiterated what Hochul and other officials have said: It’s illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, to consume cannabis while driving or to have your friends burn a blunt in the back when you’re driving them around.

“We’re undertaking a public education campaign to help make sure New Yorkers know that if they drive high or impaired, they could be charged or hurt others,” said Gough, who added that the state would devote “cannabis revenue funds” towards the police: to train more drug-recognition experts to suss out the above, and to develop “emerging tools” such as cannabis breathalyzers “that could be used to accurately detect whether a driver is impaired by cannabis.”

OK, but what’s impairment? Gough referred Cannabis Now back to his original statement—which acknowledged, indirectly at least, that there’s no cut-and-dry standard, and it will be up to individual law-enforcement officers to decide. But will their word be enough to stand up in court? And what can a responsible, safety-minded citizen do?

What is Driving While High?

For one, people should be honest with themselves. If you feel too stoned to drive—if you feel impaired—you probably are. But what if you’ve had your wake-and-bake, and followed that up with coffee and a relaxing morning—and you feel fine?

According to recent research, cannabis users can expect their driving abilities to return to normal about three-and-a-half hours after getting stoned—or, in a laboratory setting, using cannabis to achieve the satisfactory effect. There’s a brief period where users feel a false sense of security, at about the ninety-minute mark, and then abilities return at around the three-hour mark before baseline returns at hour four.

That doesn’t do much good for someone who microdoses—that is, never used cannabis “to satisfaction” like the lab-test subjects. Nor does it give you a clear and satisfactory answer to the initial problem.

Legal experts say that the determining factor may be a driver’s ability prior to the stop. That is, if they were driving like a high person, and then the drug-recognition expert determines they looked like a high person, then a judge and/or a jury may be more likely to decide that yes, they were, in fact, driving high.

“I think drug-recognition experts, in addition to other things, such as glassy or red eyes and slurred speech, are going to have to say, ‘We saw them swerving, or making illegal lane changes,’” said David C. Holland, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney and executive director of Empire State NORML.

That may change, of course, if the driver was involved in an accident. In that case, tacking on an impaired driving charge may become axiomatic—or at least an easier sell in court. Which highlights a convenient truth: If you don’t want to get busted for driving high, don’t do it. In the meantime, getting busted for driving high while you’re not, will remain a very unsatisfying and quite real possibility.

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Story of Jews and Cannabis at YIVO Opens in New York Tomorrow

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is launching a new, in-person exhibition called Am Yisrael High: The Story of Jews and Cannabis on May 5 at the Center for Jewish History building in New York City. The event will also be livestreamed for remote viewers.

Running from this week through the end of the year, the exhibit highlights the largely overlooked connection between Judaism and cannabis throughout history. While it’s well known that there are religious connections to cannabis, specifically in the Judo-Christian tradition, Rastafarians get most of the press coverage relating to sacramental usage of the coveted holy herb.

Courtesy of YIVO. 420=עשן. Art by Steve Marcus, 2022. YIVO Archives.

According to the exhibit’s press release, references to cannabis appear in the Bible (a fact many Christians know as well), the Talmud, and numerous other Jewish texts. Rabbis have written on the subject, and cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes and during rituals.

There are also celebrations to be had of Jewish contributions to the world of cannabis and medical sciences, which are also highlighted in the exhibit. It also features famous counterculture icons in cannabis and businesspeople who fall under the Jewish umbrella. One can follow the history of the plant, along with the history of Jewish cannabis enthusiasts.

The exhibit also features cannabis-centric art from the culture, including menorah bongs, an item that sounds like it might make its way into a Hanukkah celebration in the near future.

“While activity in the many realms of cannabis involves all kinds of people, not only members of the tribe, many Jews have played significant roles in a number of aspects related to cannabis and their connection warrants inquiry,” said Eddy Portnoy, YIVO’s academic advisor & exhibitions curator and author of Bad  Rabbi: And Other Strange But True Stories from the Yiddish Press according to a press release. “The story of Jews and cannabis begins in ancient times and connects to religion, science, medicine, and law. It’s a story that continues to evolve.” 

Portnoy is a specialist on Jewish popular culture who currently serves as Academic Advisor for the Max Weinreich Center and Exhibition Curator at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In addition to his writing and research, he has curated other exhibits for YIVO in the past.

Am Yisrael High will kick off with an opening night event at 7:00 p.m. (ET) featuring a panel discussion moderated by Portnoy. Panelists include horticulturist, educator, and legalization activist Ed Rosenthal; attorney Adriana Kertzer, Rabbi/Dr. Yosef Glassman; and journalist Madison Margolin. Their discussion will consider the many connections of the Jews to cannabis—religious and spiritual, historical, scientific, and more. 

YIVO
Courtesy of YIVO. Illustration for “Hemp” entry in Dr. Paul Abelson’s English-Yiddish Encyclopedic Dictionary, Hebrew Publishing Company, New York, 1924. YIVO Archives

“While many cultures and religions engage with cannabis in a variety of ways, the Jewish connection has its own unique features,” Pornoy told High Times in an email. “From ritual use to recreation, and from science and medical research to the legalization movement, Jews have been deeply involved in cannabis culture. Combining visuals and artifacts, this exhibit tells the story of the Jewish connection and contribution to the world of cannabis.”

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewry worldwide. For nearly a century, YIVO has pioneered new forms of Jewish scholarship, research, education, and cultural expression. This new exhibit will join the institute’s physical and digital database of online and in-person courses, global outreach, and resources including an over-400,000-volume library.

Now those who would like to learn how the Jewish tradition connects to cannabis can access a wealth of knowledge on the topic.

To tune in remotely to the exhibit, click here.

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New York and Montana: Contrasts in Cannabis Equity

New York and Montana, two states to have recently legalized cannabis, provide a study in contrasts in the question of equity.

In New York, concrete steps are being taken to shape a market model that corrects the social injustices of prohibition and the War on Drugs. However, advocates are watching with a critical eye to assure that these programs will be implemented in a meaningful way. In Montana, the challenges appear to be greater. Those most excluded from the state’s economy—Native Americans—are having to fight their way into the cannabis market.

Gov. Hochul Talks the Talk 

It’s now a year since New York passed the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), perhaps the most progressive and far-reaching state-wide cannabis legalization statute in the country. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul—who faces a challenge from a field full of progressive candidates in the June primaries ahead of the November election—is building on MRTA’s measures for restorative justice.

On March 10, Gov. Hochul announced that the first 100 retail licenses to sell cannabis will go to those with marijuana convictions as part of the MRTA-envisioned Social & Economic Equity program.

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, told the New York Times that by focusing early on “those who otherwise would’ve been left behind,” New York is in a “position to do something that hasn’t been done before.”  

Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 licenses to go to people who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense pre-legalization, or who have “a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with a marijuana conviction.

Hochul is asking the state Legislature for $200 million in this year’s budget to be spent on finding, securing and renovating storefronts for cannabis retailers. These initial dispensaries should be up and running by the end of the year, or in early 2023, if the proposed regulations are approved by the Cannabis Control Board.

The New York Times spoke to one hopeful applicant—Baron Fajardo of Harlem, who was first arrested for cannabis when he was 16. Six more such arrests followed as he moved from smoker to dealer. “As a person you feel down, a little bit defeated, like ‘Oh, I got a stain on my name,’” said Fajardo, now 34. “Now, that stain is actually the same thing that can help you.”

Hochul made her announcement of the program two days after New York state’s Cannabis Social Equity Coalition held a rally outside the state capitol building in Albany to press the governor on the question.

The coalition is concerned that Black and other minority entrepreneurs are already being overlooked in an industry model supposedly “designed to redress what Black people have been made to endure” under cannabis prohibition, Mika’il DeVeaux, the group’s chairman, told the Albany Times-Union.

“We’ve been asking for provisional licenses since early 2021,” DeVeaux said.

The first step toward provisional licenses was taken on Feb. 22, when Hochul signed a “conditional cultivation bill” that will allow hemp farmers to grow marijuana for the legal market this year.

“I’m proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul stated then.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes added: “We’re beginning to undo the devastating impacts more than 90 years of unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition had on too many lives and communities,” Peoples-Stokes said. “MRTA ensures that the legal adult-use market will be centered on equity and economic justice for communities of color and individuals that have been harmed most by the War on Drugs in the State of New York.”

She stressed that the new legislation calls for a Social Equity Mentorship Program, to bring prohibition-impacted communities into the cultivation sector. “The temporary conditional licenses authorized by this bill will ultimately help realize the vision and goals of the MRTA.”

But Will She Walk the Walk? 

Despite such verbiage, the advocates for an equity model in the Empire State have reason to be concerned. Big Bud is certainly poised to assume a dominant role in the market.  

Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis company, announced March 23 that it’s acquiring New York-based Columbia Care to form what will be the largest company in the US cannabis industry by revenue and the second largest in terms of retail footprint. As New York’s Gothamist notes in its coverage of the announcement, Florida-based Trulieve has 158 dispensaries, giving it the No.1 title for retail space.

The $2 billion deal will give Cresco a foothold in 17 states.

“This is how you turn brands like High Supply, Cresco and FloraCal into Miller High Life, Coca-Cola and Johnnie Walker Blue Label,” Charlie Bachtell, Cresco’s CEO, crowed to Bloomberg.

Cresco and Columbia Care, both publicly traded, already hold medical marijuana licenses in New York, and each has four dispensaries across the state. The two companies have already gobbled up valuable real estate in New York City ahead of the opening of what will certainly be the state’s most lucrative adult-use market. Cresco, operating under the brand Sunnyside in New York, plans to open its first adult-use retail outlet in Brooklyn’s hipster-haunted neighborhood of Williamsburg, while Columbia Care has its flagship shop near Union Square and a second in Downtown Brooklyn. Columbia Care also holds a medical license in New Jersey, another state on the countdown to the first legal adult-use sales. 

A slew of other industry giants already have operations in New York state, and Gothamist reports that “big names like the DIY-maven Martha Stewart, the Rockefeller family and Constellation Brands (the liquor giant that owns Corona and Svedka) will likely have a stake.”

Meanwhile, a long-anticipated crackdown seems to be imminent for the unregulated “gray market” that has been thriving in New York City—often Black and Latin legacy operators that have been setting up shop in storefronts or on tables set up in parks.

Washington Square, in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, has been the city’s premier location. Sales of pre-rolls and edibles—just barely disguised as promotional giveaways with a purchase of other merchandise, such as baseball caps with a cannabis-leaf logo—have been tolerated there since last spring. 

But Captain Stephen Spataro, commander of the NYPD’s local Sixth Precinct, now tells The Village Sun that his officers are now taking a “zero tolerance” approach to cannabis vending. Pointing to some unfortunate instances of violence around the tables in the park, Spataro warned of the dangers of an unregulated market. 

Another story in The Village Sun foresees an imminent end to the storefront “cannabis clubs” that are operating on a similar basis at a few locations around the city. 

“Initially, there’ll be very heavy civil fines—$25,000 to $250,000,” predicted East Village attorney Stanley Cohen. “Then forfeiture of cars, houses and other licenses. You need licenses to open a store in New York. It might not be for six months or a year, but it’s going to happen. They’re serious about this shit,” Cohen said.

And it isn’t just in the big city. Such stores are starting to proliferate in Upstate locales, too. In the college town of Ithaca, in the scenic Finger Lakes region, they’re called “sticker stores”—because they ostensibly give away cannabis with purchase of a (very overpriced) decal sticker. But in February 2022, the city administration issued a “clarification that unlicensed cannabis sales remain illegal in New York.”

And in February, the state Office of Cannabis Management announced that it had “sent letters ordering businesses suspected of illegally selling cannabis, including the practice of ‘gifting,’ to cease and desist those operations or risk the opportunity to get a license in the legal market as well as substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.”

Challenges for Cannabis on Native American Lands 

Then there’s the dispute over the legality of cannabis operations on New York state’s Native American lands. About a dozen cannabis retail outlets have opened on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, also known as Akwesasne, along the St. Lawrence River in the far north of the state. They’re operating without any “sticker” subterfuge—but asserting their rights on grounds of indigenous sovereignty.

“I think this is a relief valve for our visitors, our friends, our families,” William Roger Jock, a partner in the reservation’s Good Leaf Dispensary, enthused to the Associated Press in March. “We’ve been stepped on for so long and to have something like this happen, it’s almost liberating.” 

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council adopted an adult-use ordinance in June 2021 that allows issuance of cannabis business licenses to tribal members. The council openly said in a prepared statement to the AP that “there’s a short window of time for tribally licensed cannabis businesses to open ahead of other areas in New York state.” 

But some shops have opened without licenses from the tribal government. Jock and others say their operations are approved by the Longhouse, a traditional leadership structure on the reservation that serves as a kind of parallel government. 

The smaller operations approved by the Longhouse will soon face competition from a new “superstore” called Budders, which is on track to open along the reservation’s main strip, with a license from the “official” tribal government.  

The Cayuga Nation, in New York’s bucolic Finger Lakes region, also operates several retail shops along Cayuga Lake, and is now planning to branch out into cultivation. 

As Syracuse.com reports, the Cayugas say they’ll begin indoor grow operations in a 15,000-square-foot building under development on their Gakwiyo Garden property, south of the village of Seneca Falls.  

But the Cayugas are at present bitterly divided between the “official” and “traditional” tribal governments. And on New Year’s Day this year, a retail cannabis outlet in Seneca Falls that had approval of the “traditional” government was shut down in a raid by the “official” government’s Cayuga Nation Police Department. 

Further west, the Seneca Nation of Indians has established its own Cannabis Department, and is running retail outlets in and around its reservations at Allegany and Cattaraugus, with names like Good Leaf and 420 Rez Bud.

The good news is that it looks like the state government is staying out of it. Last September, The New York Times wrote a profile of the operations at Akwesasne stating the following: “For their part, the New York State authorities seem to be taking a hands-off approach to the early entrepreneurs on the St. Regis reservation, noting that such businesses are legal on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land.” 

Bottlenecks in Big Sky Country 

In a February 2022 opinion piece for amNY, Stacey Webb, co-founder and chief equity officer of The Pantheon Collective, an LGBTQiA+ majority-owned cannabis start-up in the Adirondack Mountains, took stock of New York’s responsibilities as an example for the nation: “According to the 2021 Census, a little more than 42 percent of the US population are members of the BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] community, yet less than 3 percent of legal cannabis businesses reflect ownership by BIPOC individuals. This gap is far too wide and makes it glaringly obvious that existing plans for inclusion are currently insufficient.” 

Webb pointed out that “of the 37 states who have some form of a legalized cannabis program (medical and/or adult-use), only 13 of these states have rolled out some form of a social and economic equity program. This represents a mere 27 percent. Of those, only New York and Massachusetts have developed programs which specifically name the BIPOC community as a benefactor of these programs for inclusivity.”

Voters in Montana approved a cannabis legalization initiative in 2020, but there have been no provisions for equity. Of course, these two states are a study in contrasts. The US Census says that New York has a population of some 20 million, of which a combined 37% are Black or Latin—the two communities most impacted by the oppressions of prohibition. Native Americans, another traditionally marginalized group, constitute but 1%.

According to the US Census, Montana has just a little more than one million residents, of which some 4% are Latin and less than 1% Black. But Native Americans constitute 6.7% of Montana’s population—a far more significant share.

And in Montana, the law does include provisions that limit the participation of Indian tribes in the legal cannabis economy. One indigenous nation that wants to get in on cultivation is currently lobbying the statehouse to change the law.

The Crow Tribe, who have a large reservation just south of Billings, voted to enter the cannabis industry with its own tribal ordinance in April 2021. “We’re moving forward. We’re diversifying our economy throughout the tribe. Coal was the name of the game for the tribe for a while, but for good business we have to diversify within the reservation,” tribal chairman Frank White Clay told the Billings Gazette.

The state regulations then being drawn up by the Legislature granted one cannabis business license to each tribal government, but the state’s eight recognized tribes have been slow to respond. This is because, in the words of the Helena Independent Record, “hurdles emerged from the law’s fine print.” 

Adult-use cannabis sales topped $12.8 million just in their first month, January 2022. The following month, Crow Nation representatives testified before the state Economic Affairs Interim Committee in Helena.

“The intention is there to help the tribes, but the follow-through failed,” White Clay told the committee.

While other cannabis businesses are free to expand their footprint throughout the state, licenses for tribal enterprises are far more restricted. Such enterprises are allowed to operate a single combined cultivation and retail site within 150 miles of the borders of the reservation in question.

Operating off-reservation is a means of dodging potential problems with the federal government, which still considers cannabis an illegal drug and asserts jurisdiction on the reservations of federally recognized tribes. The 150-mile limit also allows tribes to enter the market in more populous areas of the state. But it’s still a limit not faced by other businesses. And it isn’t the only one.

Some have already been addressed. House Bill 701, the legalization enabling law passed by the statehouse in April 2021 and signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte the following month, only allowed issuance of “Tier 1” licenses to tribes—the smallest cultivation capacity level. The law allowed general license holders—not tribal ones—to start at Tier 1 and scale up to expand capacity. In December 2021, the Economic Affairs Committee, with approval of the Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, voted to reject that rule, and later approved a revised rule allowing tribes to similarly expand their capacity.

But Crow officials in their February 2022 testimony asked lawmakers to further revise the rules—allowing tribal businesses to operate on the same terms as any other cannabis business. They also called for a provision allowing the state to enter into “compacts” with tribal governments, allowing indigenous nations to operate a cannabis business on their own terms—not the state rules. Such “compacts” are already in place for tribal tobacco and alcohol businesses.

In his testimony, Crow Tribe secretary Levi Black Eagle noted that Interstate 90 and Highway 212 intersect at the heart of the reservation, and that most of traffic passes through in the summer tourist season.

“If we’re unable to take advantage of an economic opportunity such as that, it’d be wrong,” he told lawmakers, according to the Independent Record.

New York and Montana alike can take timely action to assure that cannabis legalization lives up to its promises, for a more just post-prohibition world.

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Feds Halt New York City Plan for Cannabis Farms on Public Housing

New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s call to use the rooftops of public housing as cannabis greenhouse spaces looks like a pipe dream for now. 

The website Gothamist reported on Monday that a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provides funding for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), “said Adams’ office hasn’t yet reached out to the federal agency about the mayor’s idea for public-housing rooftops.” 

“There isn’t much more to say, marijuana is illegal in public housing,” the spokesperson told Gothamist.

Speaking during a conference panel last week, Adams, who took office as New York City mayor in January, said his administration wants to “examine the possibilities of having a greenhouse space on NYCHA rooftops to grow cannabis.”

As reported by Gothamist, Adams was discussing “the challenges of cultivating cannabis in a densely populated metropolis like New York City,” and that a “way to circumvent that issue, he said, is by embracing hydroponic greenhouses on buildings throughout the city—including those owned by NYCHA.”

“The jobs can come from NYCHA residents. The proceeds and education can go right into employing people right in the area,” Adams said at the conference, as quoted by Gothamist

Adams’ comments came amid the state of New York’s ongoing preparations for the launch of its new adult-use cannabis market later this year. 

Last week, the state’s Cannabis Control Board announced that it had approved the first round of cultivation licenses for the adult-use program, with the opening 52 going to New York farmers who were already growing hemp.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office said that those farmers “must adhere to quality assurance, health, and safety requirements developed by the [Office of Cannabis Management],” and “must also take part in sustainability and equity mentorship programs that will help build the first generation of equity cannabis owners across the entire supply chain.”

“New York’s farms have been the backbone of our state’s economy since before the American Revolution, and now, New York’s farms will be at the center of the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation,” Hochul said in announcing the licenses. “I’m proud to announce the first adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses in the state, and I’m proud of the work the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board are doing to get adult-use cannabis sales up and running as fast as possible without compromising our mission to uplift communities and individuals most impacted by the past century of cannabis prohibition.” 

But while more than a dozen states like New York have taken steps to legalize recreational pot use for adults, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level.

That gap in laws has posed dilemmas to state-level cannabis businesses, as well as state governments trying to institute their own pot laws.

Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams, told Gothamist that federal cannabis “laws still on the books continue to harm the same communities that have been targeted for decades.” But Lutvak expressed optimism following the passage of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

The bill would deschedule cannabis on the federal level, ending the prohibition on cannabis. Democrats in the U.S. Senate have said they intend to produce their own legalization bill prior to the Congressional recess in August. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had previously said that the chamber planned to release its cannabis bill this month.

“The House passed legislation to this effect earlier this month, and we need those who are obstructing progress at the federal level to follow New York’s lead,” Lutvak told Gothamist.

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New York Approves First Slate of Cannabis Cultivation Licenses

Regulators in New York on Thursday approved dozens of licenses for cultivating cannabis as part of the Empire State’s forthcoming recreational cannabis program.

The New York Cannabis Control Board said that it had signed off on “the first 52 adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses for farms across the state.”

“The first cannabis product on dispensary shelves will come from NY’s hard-working family farmers, not out-of-state corporations,” the board announced on Twitter.

Political leaders in New York heralded the announcement as a big step toward the state’s intended launch of retail cannabis sales later this year.

“New York’s farms have been the backbone of our state’s economy since before the American Revolution, and now, New York’s farms will be at the center of the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “I’m proud to announce the first adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses in the state, and I’m proud of the work the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board are doing to get adult-use cannabis sales up and running as fast as possible without compromising our mission to uplift communities and individuals most impacted by the past century of cannabis prohibition.” 

Last month, Hochul announced the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which requires that the first 100-200 recreational dispensary licenses in New York go to individuals with previous cannabis-related convictions, or who have family members with such convictions on their records.

As part of the initiative, New York farmers already growing hemp were given the first crack at growing cannabis for the adult-use market.

“Farmers must adhere to quality assurance, health, and safety requirements developed by the [Office of Cannabis Management],” Hochul’s office explained in the announcement of the initiative. “They must also take part in sustainability and equity mentorship programs that will help build the first generation of equity cannabis owners across the entire supply chain. These conditional licenses make it possible for farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season.”

New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said Thursday that the “approval of the first 52 provisional cultivation licenses will help create a responsible start to the [New York state] cannabis industry by granting cultivators the ability to produce enough product and inventory for social equity retail dispensaries to meet the initial demand of the anticipated legal market.”

“We are on our way towards realizing our goal of creating a viable and inclusive path for minorities and small farmers to have the opportunity to create generational wealth for their families and communities. I am proud of the work conducted thus far by the NYS Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, and I look forward to our actions bearing fruit,” Peoples-Stokes said in a statement.

New York legalized recreational cannabis use last year when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law.

But the regulated market was slow to take shape under Cuomo, who resigned in August amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Since taking over as the state’s first female governor, Hochul has been determined to get the adult-use program up and running.

In September, she completed overdue appointments to the Office of Cannabis Management.

“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long—I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running,” Hochul said in a statement at the time.

Officials in New York are hopeful that recreational pot sales will begin later this year. Until then, New Yorkers can always cross the bridge to New Jersey, where adult-use dispensaries are slated to open next week.

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The 4/20 Holiday: Who’s It Actually For?

Cannabis’ journey toward legalization in the US is helpful in understanding the shift taking place around the 4/20 holiday. Although legal marijuana in the US owes an unpayable debt to San Francisco—to the struggles and the activists living in the city, those affected by AIDS and the counterculture warriors who laid the groundwork for the first legal cannabis in the nation—the historic relationship between cannabis and the “official” San Francisco, the civic leaders and the electeds, is at best uneasy and erratic. 

Here’s a data point. Back in 2010, when California had the chance to be the first state in the country to legalize adult-use cannabis, it was San Francisco elected officials—then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris and Senator Dianne Feinstein—who led the charge against legalization. Voters listened, and Prop. 19 lost that fall by seven percentage points. 

Here’s another: Now, in 2022, in California’s fifth year of adult-use legalization, with the local tourism economy in the toilet post-COVID-19 pandemic and civic leaders desperate for a boost, San Francisco City Hall and local business boosters have launched a 4/20-themed “cannabis festival.” Official weed-themed scavenger hunts, historic walking tours and dispensary visits, all predicated on the hope that cannabis can help bail the ailing city out. 

When the city is in need, weed is there, a handier ATM than casinos or parking tickets, and 4/20 is the shill. But how about the flip side? Every legal cannabis business says they desperately need tax relief to stay alive, to ensure legalization doesn’t fail and box out the much more affordable illicit market. All that’s up to someone else, say Newsom, Harris or Feinstein. So far, nobody’s pledged to reciprocate.

This history is relevant because it illuminates something, about cannabis broadly, and 4/20 in particular. 

The Slow Capture of 4/20

After decades of shunning and scorn, weed’s sudden embrace as a point of civic pride is part of the slow but unmistakable tectonic shift we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes—from when a nub of a burnt-out joint, a scale or more than two baggies was casus belli for millions of people to become victims of the War on Drugs. Fast forward to present day, and there are almost enough billion-dollar cannabis companies to field a baseball team. 

There’s progress and that’s good. But something else is happening. 4/20 itself, instead of a renegade act of mass defiance—shamed in the media for being too messy—is now an official permitted event, complete with vendors, on-site sales…and rules. Officially at least, you can’t bring your own stash into Golden Gate Park this year. You can smoke all you want, provided you buy from the right people who paid for the privilege.

The slow capture of the 4/20 holiday begs a question: Just who’s all of this for? 

Caryn York smokes weed. She smokes even after she was arrested for petty possession in 2003, the summer after her freshman year in college, and spent the night in jail for three grams of cannabis. She got probation but, as the judge warned her, her life was very nearly derailed—for three grams of weed

Today, a professional and the executive director of the Women’s Prison Association, which advocates for women formerly and currently incarcerated, she still smokes. But for York, a Black woman from Baltimore, 4/20 hits different than it does for some of the rest of us.

“4/20 was never really a holiday in the Black community,” she said in an April 15 interview. With the episodes like the night when a city police officer swooped on York and her friends smoking in a park, bringing them to jail, “We’d celebrate 4/20 in secret,” she said. “I didn’t really learn about 4/20 until I was in college.” 

While at university, she discovered her white friends engaging in what looked a little like a goofy sorority ritual: speaking in code words, arranging a rendezvous on a special day, at a specific time. And for what, exactly? They weren’t at the same risk. This was just a game. And what if you smoked every day—for pain or for pleasure, physical or mental?

York lives in New York City now, as I do. In NYC, where Rudy Giuliani’s lasting legacy is ramping up marijuana arrests from a few thousand a year in the early 1990s, to more than 50,000 by the year 2000, legalization is still fresh and new. It doesn’t hurt you can smoke cannabis wherever you can smoke tobacco without the risk of copping a ticket, a right still denied to cannabis users in California, Colorado, Oregon and every other state that legalized cannabis a decade ago. 

In New York, in only the second 4/20 of the state’s adult-use legalization, it’s a massive party, a free-for-all. Rooftop parties, VIP smoke-outs, an enormous crowd in Washington Square Park, where plugs set up card tables and trap all day without fear of police who can only write a $250 violation for petty sales. 

This is all great. In New York, the 4/20 holiday is not corporatized, monetized or captured yet by the same establishment that spent decades trying to quash, discourage or shame it. But something’s still missing.

“When I think of 4/20 today, I actually don’t connect it to any of the current efforts to legalize marijuana,” York told me. “We have to go deeper.”

For example: New legalization laws automatically expunge old criminal records of marijuana offenses that are now legal. That’s nice—but marijuana arrests weren’t designed to simply snare someone for smoking weed. The smell of marijuana was probable cause to search your pockets or your car, to check your probation status. Legalization doesn’t clear other charges racked up after the smell of pot drew in police like moths to a lightbulb.

“It’s personal for me,” York said. “It’s triggering a bit, where it’s like, I went to jail for this shit. I had a criminal record that I had to actively have expunged.” 

One may say 4/20 is a holiday and not the time to think about the work. That might land if it weren’t for the fact that most of us don’t think about it much on the other 364 days, either.

Is 4/20 The Next Hallmark Holiday?

It was somewhere between the billboards making dusty stoner puns in order to pimp pizza rolls; the ads featuring red-eyed, droopy-lidded anthropomorphic food containers—whether it was Buffalo Wild Wings or someone else, I can’t remember and I don’t care. It was somewhere between the smarmy best junk-food to eat on 4/20 listicles and Carl’s Jr stuffing CBD in its hamburgers for whatever reason, when the 20th day of April started to feel a little old, a little played-out. 

All this was inevitable. Complaining about America doing an America is 21st-century tilting at windmills. In the same way the cannabis legalization movement gave way to a capitalized industry, “tax and regulate” means 4/20 completes its long and predictable journey from teen-aged inside joke, to counterculture milestone, to crass marketing opportunity. A Hallmark card can’t be far behind, when what we really could use is a federal holiday for the millions and millions of drug-war victims.

Because that’s the thing. The War on Drugs isn’t over. Weed was the easiest catch—everyone uses it, it stinks up the room—but cannabis prohibition was just the most obvious symptom of an overall malady that’s still plaguing us. We’re still sick, but here we are, releasing ourselves from the hospital, shaking society’s hand—a hand that, until just a little while ago, held a knife stuck into our backs. Let’s wipe the blood off before we have a party.

It’s nice that the 4/20 holiday is bigger than ever and people are having fun. I genuinely hope more people smoke weed. But 4/20 should also have at least some acknowledgment of the unfinished business at hand. Instead, it’s business as usual. 

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New York Approves First Slate of Cannabis Cultivation Licenses

Regulators in New York on Thursday approved dozens of licenses for cultivating cannabis as part of the Empire State’s forthcoming recreational cannabis program.

The New York Cannabis Control Board said that it had signed off on “the first 52 adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses for farms across the state.”

“The first cannabis product on dispensary shelves will come from NY’s hard-working family farmers, not out-of-state corporations,” the board announced on Twitter.

Political leaders in New York heralded the announcement as a big step toward the state’s intended launch of retail cannabis sales later this year.

“New York’s farms have been the backbone of our state’s economy since before the American Revolution, and now, New York’s farms will be at the center of the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “I’m proud to announce the first adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses in the state, and I’m proud of the work the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board are doing to get adult-use cannabis sales up and running as fast as possible without compromising our mission to uplift communities and individuals most impacted by the past century of cannabis prohibition.” 

Last month, Hochul announced the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which requires that the first 100-200 recreational dispensary licenses in New York go to individuals with previous cannabis-related convictions, or who have family members with such convictions on their records.

As part of the initiative, New York farmers already growing hemp were given the first crack at growing cannabis for the adult-use market.

“Farmers must adhere to quality assurance, health, and safety requirements developed by the [Office of Cannabis Management],” Hochul’s office explained in the announcement of the initiative. “They must also take part in sustainability and equity mentorship programs that will help build the first generation of equity cannabis owners across the entire supply chain. These conditional licenses make it possible for farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season.”

New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said Thursday that the “approval of the first 52 provisional cultivation licenses will help create a responsible start to the [New York state] cannabis industry by granting cultivators the ability to produce enough product and inventory for social equity retail dispensaries to meet the initial demand of the anticipated legal market.”

“We are on our way towards realizing our goal of creating a viable and inclusive path for minorities and small farmers to have the opportunity to create generational wealth for their families and communities. I am proud of the work conducted thus far by the NYS Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, and I look forward to our actions bearing fruit,” Peoples-Stokes said in a statement.

New York legalized recreational cannabis use last year when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law.

But the regulated market was slow to take shape under Cuomo, who resigned in August amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Since taking over as the state’s first female governor, Hochul has been determined to get the adult-use program up and running.

In September, she completed overdue appointments to the Office of Cannabis Management.

“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long—I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running,” Hochul said in a statement at the time.

Officials in New York are hopeful that recreational pot sales will begin later this year. Until then, New Yorkers can always cross the bridge to New Jersey, where adult-use dispensaries are slated to open next week.

The post New York Approves First Slate of Cannabis Cultivation Licenses appeared first on High Times.

What’s going on for 4/20 in New York?

I don’t need to explain to you what 4/20 is about. If you’re reading this, you already know the day is for celebrating the plant—anything else is just noise.

While I’ve long advocated that this is NOT the day to try and launch your brand, or drop a new SKU, if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the first ingredient for a successful celebration is community; so it’s only natural we do something big.

Now, we’ve had a LOT of legal 4/20’s in California already, but New York

The Quick & Dirty

So here’s the rundown: My buddy Doja EK came to me with this idea a few months back of doing a Hippie Hill-style smokeout in Manhattan. Obviously, I was immediately interested—it’s where High Times was born; it’s where I was born, and 4/20 in the Big Apple has ALWAYS been special, so now that legalization has come and COVID is basically over, let’s get after it.

Now Doja had already done an event with Astor Club last year, and had been recruiting. He’d talked to California legends like Alien Labs, Green Dawg, The Fire Society. He’d connected with New York heavies like the Haymaker team, On the Revel & Buddy’s Bodega. Everyone was in alignment, we’re going to do it for the culture—no infrastructure, no tickets, just homies & headstash, all as one.

Somewhere along the line, an announcement was rushed with a ton of logos on it and, understandably, that left a lot of others feeling on the outside of something that was always supposed to involve all of us, so we’ve flipped the script a bit. No more logos, no more brand names—just an open invitation to anyone, local or tourist, transplant or visitor.

Courtesy of High Times

Next Wednesday, to celebrate the highest of holy days, we will descend on a random outdoor location in New York. There will be no (reasonable) capacity. There will be no tickets or fees. Just a whole lot of pot heads lighting up together in celebration of our favorite plant, in one of the greatest cities in the world, on the cusp of its legal cannabis market. We’ll announce the location that morning so as not to give the fuzz too much of a heads up, so if you’d like to be notified of where we’re meeting, RSVP here.

Whether you buy from a guy or grow your own, come pull up and sesh with us. We’re trying to smell ALL the flowers!

But that’s not all! 

Since announcing this intention to return home for this, an enormous outpouring of support has come my way. And with that, a whole itinerary of other events happening around our event started hitting my desk. Now as I said, this day, our party—this was always about the people, so in that spirit, here are a few other things I plan on pulling up to, and I hope to see y’all there as well! Come find me and we’ll burn one together—it’s going to be a week to remember!

Courtesy of High Times

After we wrap up at our sesh, the official afterparty is going to be held at the iconic institution Webster Hall, for an event dubbed Unity Day. Produced by the homies at Cannademix, and officially cosigned by Senator Sanders office, the event will feature performances by Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna. Rocking from 6 p.m. all the way until 2 a.m., this is our late night pull up FOR SURE. I used to throw shows at this venue, so this one is a real full circle moment for me, and I’d love for you all to be there. They invited the weed kid back!!! Grab tickets for this one here and let’s close out the night together.

More To Do!

Courtesy of Certz

Another evening sesh worth attending that night is the release party for Banana Certz, the collab between Jokes Up Certz and Golden State Banana. The event, thrown by Premium Sesh, runs from 7 p.m. until late. I’m not entirely sure the location of the event, but I imagine they don’t want just anyone to pull up, so they probably tell you after you buy your access. Tickets are $40, and available here. In Certz’s own words, this collab is about “closing the gap” between the coasts, and putting the key operators in the same room. That’s definitely a vibe we can get with!

Courtesy of Jim Jones

In case you’re looking to celebrate with live music, either Phish at the Garden or the Cannaval in Jersey seem like the best options. Now, while I certainly align with the Dead, I never really got Phish, so the hip-hop event in NJ would be my pick. Featuring performances by Jim Jones, Dave East, Trav, Maino, Yung LB & more, this one looks like it’s going to have all the energy you’ll need to keep rocking through what tends to be a drowsy day. Tickets here.

In town early?

Courtesy of Cannaclusive

Also, while you’re here let me throw in some extra selfless promotion: If you’re around the City on the 19th, I’ll be speaking on building media relationships for Cannaclusive’s event at Soho Works. I’ve also got my guy Andrew Ward from Benzinga (and here), as well as Alexis Isaacs from Mattio and Keith Nelson Jr. from Men’s Health on the panel, so it should be a great conversation. RSVP here to get our cheat codes.

If California is still in the Building…

Courtesy of High Rise & Green Street Festival

Finally, and as a little bonus for those still in California (if you’re not going to Hippy Hill!), and Los Angeles specifically (if you’ve read this long, you deserve it!), I recommend checking out the event High Rise is having at the Green Street building. That’s where I’d be if I was in town!

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New York Launches Cannabis Public Education Campaign

New York residents will be seeing cannabis-themed television commercials, subway advertisements, and billboards with the launch of a cannabis public education campaign announced by Governor Kathy Hochul on Monday. The Cannabis Conversations campaign, which is scheduled to run over the next three months, is designed to remind New Yorkers of the risks of driving impaired by cannabis, provide parents with tools to protect young people, and spread other messages related to the legalization of cannabis.

The governor’s office noted that last year’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) that legalized cannabis in New York is focused on public health and was developed to support the principles of safety, social justice, and economic development. As part of this shift in public policy, the MRTA includes provisions mandating public education campaigns to inform New Yorkers about the new law and its impact on health and safety.

“With the ‘Cannabis Conversations’ campaign, we’re following through on our commitment to provide New Yorkers with the information they need to safely navigate the new Cannabis Law,” Hochul said in a statement. “Education is the best tool to keep New Yorkers healthy as we continue to ramp up this safe, inclusive, and equitable industry.”

Courtesy of NYS Office of Cannabis Management

The education campaign from New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will consist of messages in English and Spanish distributed through television commercials, radio spots, transit ads, social media posts and billboards. Monday’s launch includes the release of a 30-second spot highlighting New York’s legalization of cannabis for adults 21 and older, the importance of not driving under the influence, and the need to securely store cannabis away from children and pets.

“‘Cannabis Conversations’ is our first public health campaign as we make sure New Yorkers have the initial information they need to stay safe and healthy. We have learned from other states and are excited to amplify these important messages across the State,” said Cannabis Control Board chair Tremaine Wright. “Meanwhile, we’re hard at work building this new industry, and as it continues to evolve, so, too, will our public education efforts with future campaigns tackling a growing range of health and safety messaging.”

Program Started with Community Outreach

The new program builds on the original Cannabis Conversations campaign featuring a series of virtual community outreach events hosted by Wright in January and February. The series featured 10 events focused on different regions of the state and one statewide event in Spanish.

Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the cannabis reform advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, said that it “is essential for New York’s Cannabis Conversation campaign to establish statewide literacy of our new cannabis policy.”

“New Yorkers have experienced decades of prohibition, disparate enforcement, and with increasing intensity misinformation. The Office of Cannabis Management was created to serve as a central hub for cannabis policy and information,” added Frederique. “It is our hope that this is only the beginning of the state’s robust public education that not only teaches people what the law is, but includes considerations around consumption, how to become an entrepreneur, and where to get help if you need it.”

New York
Courtesy of NYS Office of Cannabis Management

Additional messages in the Cannabis Conversations campaign will be released over the next three months. Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, said that she is encouraged to see that the governor and the OCM are taking public health and health equity seriously as the state prepares for the full implementation of legalized cannabis.

“There are health risks associated with cannabis use that require sound policy to mitigate, and the governor’s ‘Cannabis Conversations’ Campaign is a clear indication that this administration supports a thoughtful and careful approach to cannabis policy,” said Ravenhall. “We look forward to working with the state to monitor the program’s public health impact and to continue to find new ways to ensure New York has the safest program possible.”

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Politicians Supporting Cannabis and Putting ‘Fools’ in Their Place

Today is April Fool’s Day. While we could tell you some fake story about how weed is falling from the sky, we’d prefer to go in a different direction. The cannabis industry has come such a long way, and rather than discuss the fools who are still pushing against cannabis, we’d rather celebrate those who continue to shine a light on the plant while calling it like it is, unrelenting in their efforts to expand access to cannabis across the board. Here are just a few political advocates who are shooting for change.

Courtesy of Gary Chambers for Louisiana

Gary Chambers, Running for Senate in Louisiana

Although Gary Chambers is not yet a member of the Senate, we’d be hard-pressed not to include him given his advocacy on the subject of cannabis, among other topics. He announced his candidacy in January this year with a video of himself smoking a blunt and talking about the harms caused by the War on Drugs. Most recently, he spoke at the Chamber of Cannabis in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 10 about the long-term imprisonment of Kevin O’Brien Allen for a cannabis conviction and his approach to politics. 

“I didn’t get into politics to be a politician,” he shared. “Most of the people who came into my community with a suit and tie was lying … I don’t talk the way that the average politician talks, and I don’t produce content to tell voters what our message is, in the way that [an] average politician does so. Because I don’t think it’s transformative, and I don’t think it works.” 

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York

Many politicians approach their jobs with a no-nonsense approach, and Kathy Hochul has made some waves in favor of New York state’s cannabis program. In August 2021, she was appointed as the state’s first female governor and vowed to launch the cannabis industry that former Governor Andrew Cuomo stalled. 

In a press release on September 1, 2021, Hochul confirmed her intention to make cannabis a priority. “One of my top priorities is to finally get New York’s cannabis industry up and running—this has been long overdue, but we’re going to make up for lost time with the Senate confirmation of Tremaine Wright as Chair of the Cannabis Control Board and Christopher Alexander as Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management,” she stated. Most recently, she also implemented a Seeding Opportunity Initiative on March 10, which sets a goal for cannabis sales to begin by the end of 2022.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor

Former Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania and current state Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman has long been advocating for cannabis legalization to help those who have been negatively affected by the War on Drugs. In May 2021, he questioned the country’s ban on the plant. 

“This isn’t controversial,” he shared on the topic of legalization. “Canada, the whole country has legalized, and somehow they managed to keep doing pretty darn well … they haven’t descended into anarchy, you know?” In an interview with Forbes in September 2021, he shared that cannabis legalization has “always been the right thing to do.” He’s currently running for Senator of Pennsylvania, the ballot window of which is approaching on May 17, 2022.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader

On the congressional level, Chuck Schumer is a familiar name with those following the many attempts to make cannabis federally legal. He introduced a bill for federal decriminalization in June 2018, and federal legalization in May 2019. In April 2021, he was done waiting for President Joe Biden to take a stance on cannabis and was ready to bring a cannabis bill to the senate floor. 

“We will move forward,” Schumer said. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.” As of February 4 while attending a press conference, he stated that he will once again focus on introducing another bill to tackle the issue this April. 

“In the coming weeks, we’re ramping up our outreach—and we expect to introduce final legislation. Our goal is to do it in April,” Schumer said at the press event. “Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me.”

Politicians
Courtesy of Shutterstock

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US House of Representative of New York

The initials “AOC” have been seen in many headlines since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assumed her office in January 2019. During this time, she has been a vocal advocate on many issues, including cannabis and psychedelic therapies. In July 2021, she advocated for an amendment to allow the further study of substances such as MDMA, psilocybin and ibogaine as a potential medical treatment for certain conditions. 

In December 2021, Ocasio-Cortez and Congressman Dave Joyce introduced the HOPE (Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement) Act with the hopes of encouraging states to support cannabis expungement programs. “As we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans, disproportionately people of color, from employment, housing and other opportunity,” she said of the bill.

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