The Oneida Indian Nation announced on Monday that it is launching a new cannabis enterprise in central New York, with plans to begin construction next month on a 50,000 square foot facility to house the operation. The seed-to-sale venture will include cannabis cultivation and production at the new facility in Verona, New York, to be run entirely by the Oneida Indian Nation. Retail cannabis stores, which will be announced at a later date and located exclusively on tribal lands, are projected to open in late 2023.
Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Indian Nation and the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, said that the Oneida Indian Nation is launching operations in the cannabis industry to take advantage of new economic opportunities created by the legalization of marijuana in New York and the surrounding area.
“As more and more states across the country enter into the cannabis business, including neighboring states and other tribal nations, it is important that the Oneida people not be left out from taking advantage of this economic opportunity,” Halbritter said in a statement from the Oneida Indian Nation. “We are excited about this new venture and are confident based on our expertise and proven track record within other highly regulated industries that we will be able to set the standard for developing a safe and successful adult recreational cannabis business on Oneida Indian Nation lands.”
Weed Is Now Legal in New York
New York legalized recreational marijuana last year with the passage of the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act, which was signed into law on March 31, 2021. Regulators are currently in the process of developing the regulatory system to govern the cannabis industry, with the first retail adult-use cannabis dispensaries expected to open by the end of the year.
Officials in New York have acknowledged that sovereign Native American nations are free to participate in the state’s legal cannabis market. The Cayuga Nation has established a cannabis growing and processing facility in Seneca County and a retail store in Cayuga County. The Akwesasne Mohawk Nation has retail cannabis outlets on its land in northern New York, while the Seneca Nation has about 20 retailers on its territory in the western part of the state.
For its newly announced cannabis enterprise, the Oneida Indian Nation has adopted a cannabis ordinance and regulations to govern the cannabis enterprise and hold it to standards comparable to New York State’s cannabis laws and regulations, including comparable age restrictions and limitations on purchase amounts, employee licensure requirements and assurances of product safety and quality.
The Oneida Indian Nation will own and operate all of the businesses associated with the cannabis enterprise, rather than issuing licenses to independent operators. The nation has discussed the tribe’s plans for the cannabis enterprise with the New York Office of Cannabis Management and is open to further talks, according to Joel Barkin, the nation’s vice president for communications.
The Oneida Indian Nation has engaged in discussions with the New York State Office of Cannabis Management to create a joint inspection partnership of their cannabis products. The nation will apply the same tax rate on marijuana sales as the state to “avoid competition questions,” Barkin said. All tax revenues will go to support the tribe and its municipal government services on the nation territory. Those include health care, education, public safety, and cultural preservation.
The Oneida Indian Nation is a federally recognized Indian nation in central New York, consisting of about 1,000 enrolled tribal members. The Oneida Indian Nation’s enterprises, which employ more than 4,500 people, include hotels, casinos, retail shops, an RV Park, and three boat marinas. Proceeds from these enterprises are used to develop the tribe’s economic base and provide essential services to its members, including housing, health care, and education incentives and programs.
The storefront on Allen Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, proudly sports a cannabis leaf logo on its awning. Beyond the security workers who check ID at the door, buds, edibles and pre-rolled joints are on open display in glass cases. There isn’t the slightest hint of stealth or disguise.
Don’t Call It A ‘Loophole’
This is one of three Empire Cannabis Clubs locations around the city—the others are up the island in Chelsea and across the East River in Williamsburg. Co-owner Jonathan Elfand says three more are planned—for Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side and Greenpoint.
Speaking to Cannabis Now in a small park across from the establishment, Elfand boasts of his legacy credentials. “I’ve been messing with the marijuana trade in New York City since the 1980s,” he says. “I’ve grown weed in New York, sold weed in New York. I’ve been arrested numerous times, including on federal cultivation charges.”
Elfand says including the 10-year term from that bust in ’98, he’s spent 14 years behind bars for cannabis. “We want to make sure cannabis goes to the community, the way it’s supposed to. I refuse to get into the system,” he expounds. “After 215 in California, millions of dollars came in from people with no history in cannabis. Corporate cannabis is not taking over New York City, that’s not happening. We don’t want it to be just CuraLeaf and MedMen.”
And Elfand insists the law is on his side, dismissing the terms used in the media to describe his enterprise.
“I’ve read through the law. This isn’t a ‘gray area’ or a ‘loophole,’” he says. “As long as you are transferring it hand-to-hand without profit, it is not a sale under the law. I make money off membership fees, not the cannabis. I am not selling, I am facilitating transfer. The cannabis is sold for the price I pay to acquire it and get it on the shelf.”
Elfand says the club received a “cease and desist” letter from New York’s Cannabis Control Board in February. He says they replied to it with a letter explaining their legal position, and never heard back.
A press release issued by the business at that time stated: “Empire Cannabis Clubs is a not-for-profit cannabis dispensary (NFPCD) that aims to serve the goals of its members while ensuring an inclusive marketplace built upon social and economic justice for this rapidly growing industry before billion-dollar corporations are allowed to dominate the market and corrupt the process.”
And indeed, the official New York Courts website states that under the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March 2021, “it is now legal for a person 21 years of age or older to give or transfer up to three ounces of cannabis and up to twenty-four grams of concentrated cannabis, to another person 21 years of age or older, as long as it is given without any payment.”
Elfand emphasizes that he is conforming to every industry standard. “Everyone is scanned in; everyone is over 21. It’s all above-board. All products are lab-tested.”
Now the testing is mostly done out of state, he says, but adds that he hopes to open a laboratory in New York. Quantity per sale is limited to three ounces of flower or 24 grams of concentrate—the permissible quantities for personal possession (outside the home) under MRTA.
Elfand is one of four co-owners, including his sister and brother. He says Empire Cannabis Clubs has some 100 employees, the majority with criminal records. “We try to get people who have been victimized by the war on drugs,” he says.
The business is paying sales tax (even though it denies making any “sales,” as legally defined), and is among several listed on the New York Dispensary Events website.
“Others may be flying under the radar in New York City, but that’s not me,” Elfand insists. “We’re paying taxes, we have a social equity program, and we’re providing top-quality product safely and securely while making sure mom and pop can take some of that money back to the Bronx for their families.”
Legacy Operators Favored
Do businesses on the model of Empire Cannabis have a future as the licensed retail market is about to come online?
Officially, New York’s legal cannabis program is being crafted to prioritize legacy operators. On July 14, the Cannabis Control Board issued long-awaited regulations allowing entrepreneurs to apply for licenses for retail establishments. The first round of Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses will go to “justice-involved individuals”—that is, those with past cannabis convictions.
The first 150 will be eligible to receive aid from a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.
“This is a tremendous stride in the right direction,” Control Board chair Tremaine Wright, a former Assembly member from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the Daily News. “We’re leading with equity in this state.”
On Aug. 5, the Control Board issued the first 15 licenses for cannabis processors, and announced regulations for testing labs to apply for licenses. On that occasion, both Wright and Alexander made statements pledging inclusion for legacy operators.
“Processors aren’t just an important part of the cannabis supply chain, they are creators, who take a raw plant and transform it into tested, consistent, high-quality products that consumers can trust,” Wright said. “When we open New York’s first stores, owned and operated by New Yorkers harmed by the misguided criminalization of cannabis, the shelves will be lined with infused edibles, topical creams and concentrated oils. None of those products would be possible without these first processors launching New York’s cannabis industry.”
Alexander adds: “These processors aren’t just expanding their own businesses; they are committed to also mentoring the next generation of cannabis processors. They’ll be teaching vital manufacturing skills to those with a passion for cannabis…New York’s entire cannabis ecosystem will create opportunities for those who have been shut out of jobs and industry, and will bring those skills to communities across the state.”
A Unified Legacy Operators Council (UNLOC) has been founded by a group of 25 entrepreneurs to advocate for this sector. Among the members are veteran rappers Umi and M-1 (formerly of Dead Prez).
Umi recently told the Albany Times-Union, “I’m not hearing enough about the culture that’s behind the actual plant.” Added M-1: “There’s no way that the same capitalist exploitation that has happened in America can be good for cannabis.”
But Big Bud Is Circling In
And indeed the notorious multi-state operators (MSOs) are making no effort to hide their ambitions for the Empire State. Their representatives were certainly out in force for the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE) held at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center the first week of June—featuring an “Industry Yacht Party” on the Hudson River.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (a former NYPD cop) addressed the CWCBE, famously quipping to the crowd: “I’m a bit disappointed. I thought I’d walk in the room and have a nice scent of weed goin’ on in here.” (This despite the fact that the Javits Center does not allow smoking of anything.)
A more telling comment was offered by Gretchen Gailey, chief strategy officer for the CWCBE. She told the assemblage: “We say brands are born in California but made in New York. The real money is going to happen in this part of the country. This is where the population of the US is.”
MSO CuraLeaf has four medical marijuana retail locations in New York state, including one in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. It’s already applying to begin recreational sales at its location in New Jersey’s Bordentown, and is expected to follow suit in New York.
The 10 “registered organizations” that are licensed to distribute medical marijuana in New York are “scrambling” to position themselves for the adult-use market, in the words of the New York Times. The paper notes that some of these “ROs” donated to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign, and nearly all have hired lobbyists, spending more than $2 million this year in expectation of a big share of a projected $6 billion market.
CuraLeaf got into a spot of bother with regulatory authorities in August, when it was forced to pull thousands of products from the shelves of its New York dispensaries for misleading labeling. CuraLeaf apparently began calculating THC content by “dry weight” rather than “wet weight” (the state norm) in order to jack up percentages. The Office of Cannabis Management said it couldn’t do that without prior official approval.
Speaking to the environmental contradictions of Big Bud, MSO Vireo Health apparently needs more electricity for its new cultivation and processing facility than can be provided by the technology park where it has set up shop. The Leader-Herald in upstate Gloversville reported that Fulton County industrial development officials were “shocked” to learn from Vireo that the county-financed transmission line into Tryon Technology Park wasn’t sufficient for the MSO’s planned operations.
And some perceive there are still obstacles for the little guy. The $2,000 non-refundable application fee for adult-use retail outlets is far below the $10,000 fee for medical marijuana dispensaries. But applicants must submit tax documents showing they’ve owned and operated a profitable business for at least two years. And Bloomberg Tax recently noted: “Those fortunate enough to obtain one of New York’s recreational cannabis licenses will be forced to contend with a gauntlet of state and local taxes.”
Since June 1, the Cannabis Control Board has issued some 160 cultivation licenses for the adult-use market, with many hemp farmers getting in on the act.
In April, the state legislature passed a bill allowing already-operating hemp farms to get early adult-use cultivation licenses, to supply retail businesses as soon as they open. But the MSOs are certain to be next in line.
Crackdown on Independent Operators…Sort of
In New York City, there has been much media hyperventilation about the proliferation of unlicensed retail establishments—often derided as “line jumpers.”
Typical is a recent story in the New York Post, “New Yorkers Worry Over Flowering Weed Market.” It sensationalizes about a “Green Mile” that has emerged within “Hell Square”—the name for a section of the Lower East Side filled with noisy bars and eateries that irk the locals. The article mentions both Empire Cannabis and Granny Za’s on Rivington St., where patrons are “gifted” a quarter-ounce of cannabis if they pay $75 for a piece of digital artwork. The Post calls this using “clever loopholes.”
Such coverage has contributed to calls for a crackdown by the New York Police Department. On July 8, the unlicensed open-air cannabis market that’s been operating in Washington Square Park, the heart of Greenwich Village, won some bad press. A Parks Department worker tried to confiscate one of the tables that had been set up—and got into a physical scuffle with the merchants. Two were arrested and charged with assault.
There are growing calls from well-heeled area residents to shut down the Washington Square market, and the NYPD earlier this year announced a “zero tolerance” policy for unlicensed cannabis sales in the park. But in fact, the open-air market persists as summer fades into fall.
In the first significant move toward a crackdown, on Aug. 16 the NYPD seized 20 of the trucks that rove the city to make sidewalk cannabis sales. The Department’s Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey proudly tweeted: “If you are looking to buy illegal cannabis from the Weed World Bus located on 5th Avenue & 40th Street, it is no longer open for business. We do not anticipate it opening for business anytime soon!”
Technically, however, the seizures were made because of parking violations.
And in May, Liz Kreuger, the same Manhattan state senator who shepherded through the MRTA, won approval in the Senate for S.9452—a bill that would change the language of the MRTA to expressly prohibit unlicensed monetary transfers of cannabis. It failed to pass the Assembly before the legislative session ended in June.
Jonathan Elfand believes his Empire Cannabis Clubs set the standard for responsible practice in the unlicensed sector. He has this to say to the sector’s critics: “Tell all the people in line for licenses that I’ve been in this all my life, and I don’t want to see it taken over by corporate money.”
Cannabis data company New Frontier Data released “Growing Excellence: Seven Ways to Optimize Cannabis Cultivation in Newly Legal Markets” on Sept. 7, which highlights seven key issues that new cannabis producers should consider in order to achieve success.
“The continued activation of new legal markets will keep pushing existing cannabis producers to expand operations and draw new producers to the market,” said New Frontier Data CEO Gary Allen. “By basing their strategic plans around the seven key factors identified in this report, operators can capitalize on this massive market opportunity.”
In a press release, New Frontier Data projects that more than 27.7 million pounds of cannabis will be cultivated in the U.S. in 2030 (compared to the 7 million that was cultivated in 2020). These numbers are reflected in the total amount of cultivation, which includes plants grown indoor, in a greenhouse, or outdoor.
The New Frontier Data report states that a shift in legal cannabis available on the East coast, cultivation trends are also beginning to change. “As the legal cannabis industry transitions eastward from West Coast markets, several factors will impact how cannabis is grown in the new markets,” the report states. “Different climatic conditions will favor controlled environments over outdoor cultivation, given either the length and depth of winters in the North, or summer humidity in the South.”
Between 2022-2030, New Frontier Data suggests that California will remain on top of producing the most pounds of cannabis at 26.4 million, followed by Florida at 18.4 million, New York at 15.1 million, Illinois at 11.9 million, and numerous other states producing 10 million or less.
The report’s first point suggests the difference in temperature in summer and winter on the west and east coasts. As a result, most east coast states will rely on indoor grow facilities, whereas California remains the leader in both greenhouses and outdoor farms.
Among its other points of discussion, New Frontier Data mentions that automation will continue to grow, but requires experienced workers to manage them. The report also reviews the pros and cons of building or buying a cultivation facility, now that established markets offer the option to choose. Demand for specific products is also changing, with flower still in the lead, as of average data from 2021, but other products are also rising in popularity. “Value-added products (vapes, edibles, topicals, etc.) now account for half of all legal product sales, and consumer interest in these new products is poised for sustained growth as innovation drives increased product quality and diversity, enabling consumers to integrate cannabis into their lives in increasingly novel ways,” the report states. “While demand for flower is also growing, especially for pre-rolls, it is growing more slowly than demand for non-flower products.”
There is also a shift in resource efficiency, which remains important due to various factors. Energy costs from indoor lighting can cause stress on the electrical grid, but new LED technologies help lower electricity use. Likewise, watering through automated systems vs. hand watering can also help save water, in addition to focusing on water reclamation systems.
On the subject of water though, the report notes that climate change is a threat to many states, especially those that are experiencing a drought. “Cannabis producers must consider the looming implications of a changing climate on their operations,” the report describes. “Longer, hotter summers will add premiums on increased cooling requirements and higher energy demand to operate HVAC systems at higher levels for longer periods. Acute droughts—such as those currently being experienced in the Western U.S. states—will drive water shortages, increased water losses from evaporation, and higher costs of water from municipal or community sources.”
Finally, the report concludes that the industry success will be earned by those who adapt to the future. “While producers in new markets may enjoy a period of high margins and low competition, the most successful operators will be those who plan for where the market is going, not where it currently is.”
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office will vacate hundreds of convictions that were secured based on testimony from corrupt cops, including NYPD narcotics officers who planted drugs on innocent suspects. Prosecutors appeared in court on Wednesday to request dismissals in 47 felony cases, and have plans to visit the Brooklyn Criminal Court later this month to ask for an additional 331 misdemeanor convictions to be vacated.
The cases are related to 13 NYPD officers that have been convicted of committing crimes while on duty. The vast majority of the convictions to be vacated were drug-related and involved illegal conduct including planting drugs on suspects or supplying narcotics to confidential informants. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said on Wednesday that while a review did not reveal misconduct in the cases to be vacated, his prosecutors “no longer have confidence” in the work of the tainted cops.
“These former police officers were found to have committed serious misconduct that directly relates to their official job duties, calling into question the integrity of every arrest they have made,” Gonzalez said. “A thorough review by my Conviction Review Unit identified those cases in which their testimony was essential to proving guilt, and I will now move to dismiss those convictions as I no longer have confidence in the integrity of the evidence that underpinned them.”
Cases Connected to Corrupt Brooklyn Drug Squad
Many of the dismissed cases, a total of 134, involved testimony from former NYPD narcotics officer Jerry Bowens, who is serving a 40-prison sentence for murder after killing his girlfriend. In 2008, while assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics Division, he illegally stole crack from suspects and provided the drugs to an informant in exchange for information. He shot and killed his girlfriend and wounded another person in 2009 while awaiting trial on the corruption case.
Bowens was one of four officers with the Brooklyn South Narcotics squad convicted in a massive corruption scandal. More than half of the cases slated for dismissal involved testimony from the four officers.
Another 14 cases were dismissed due to their connection with Jason Arbeeny, a Brooklyn South Narcotics officer who was convicted of official misconduct and other charges for planting drugs in 2007. Sean Johnstone, also a Brooklyn South Narcotics officer, was convicted of conspiracy for paying informants with drugs, leading Gonzalez to seek dismissal of 40 cases that relied on his testimony.
Tainted Convictions Resulted in Prison Time
Gonzalez and the Legal Aid Society noted that many of the cases resulted in prison time for those convicted.
“These convictions continue to hang around people and impact them in all kinds of ways,” Gonzalez said. “Had we known about these officers, we would never have brought these cases.”
Elizabeth Felber of the Legal Aid Society commended Gonzalez’s move to dismiss the cases and noted that many of those convicted have suffered ongoing repercussions of their criminal record. She also urged prosecutors to continue reviewing past convictions as a matter of policy.
“While we applaud this decision, the people prosecuted in these cases were forced to endure hardships that should never have happened to begin with,” said Felber. “Some individuals lost years of their lives serving prison sentences and many suffered collateral harm including housing instability, loss of employment, and severed access to critical services, all because of the words of these corrupt police officers.”
“We urge DA Gonzalez and all of the other New York City District Attorneys to conduct these reviews on an ongoing basis and with full transparency, not just in response to public pressure, but as their duty to ‘do justice.’ To do otherwise erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal legal system,” Felber continued.
The Brooklyn DA’s office spent 10 months reviewing hundreds of cases that the disgraced police officers had participated in, marking for dismissal those in which testimony from the former cops was the primary evidence presented to the court. Prosecutors said about 100 convictions were kept in place based on other evidence that corroborated the former officers’ testimony.
Nick Kyrgios tasted victory, and caught a whiff of marijuana, in his second round match at the US Open on Wednesday.
Kyrgios, the 23rd-seeded Australian, outlasted the unranked Benjamin Bonzi in four sets to advance in the final tennis grand slam of the year, held annually in New York City.
But Kyrgios was apparently tested by more than just his French opponent. As the two players changed sides in the second set, Kyrgios asked the chair umpire to admonish the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
CNN reported that the umpire “reminded fans to refrain from smoking around the court as play got back underway.” The smell appeared to be wafting from the concessions in the concourse of the stadium.
“People don’t know that I’m a heavy asthmatic so when I’m running side to side and struggling to breathe already, it’s probably not something I want to be breathing in between points,” Kyrgios said in a post-match interview, as quoted by CNN.
Recreational cannabis has been legal in the state of New York for more than a year, and public usage has become ubiquitous throughout NYC.
Under the new law, marijuana smoking is permitted wherever cigarette smoking is also allowed. That does not apply to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the US Open, which is a strict “smoke free environment.”
Regulators in New York have tried to rein in the public toking by creating other smoke-free refuges. In July, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law that prohibits “smoking in all state-owned beaches, boardwalks, marinas, playgrounds, recreation centers, and group camps.” And yes, that includes both cigarettes and weed.
“Smoking is a dangerous habit that affects not only the smoker but everyone around them, including families and children enjoying our state’s great public places,” Hochul said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign this legislation that will protect New Yorkers’ health and help reduce litter in public parks and beaches across the state.”
But New York being New York, those limits will continue to be tested. And at the US Open, the distractions are far more plentiful than at other, more tranquil tennis competitions.
As the Associated Press noted in its match report, the “noise of New York is a challenge for many players, and Kyrgios struggled not only with the chatter of the fans but with the roars of the trains that can be heard from outside the open-air stadium.”
“For someone that’s struggled to focus in my career, I’m really trying hard to put my head down and play point by point, try to dig myself out of some certain situations. It’s hard because there’s a lot of distractions,” Kyrgios said, as quoted by the Associated Press.
“Obviously, a lot of heckling going on as well. People are saying things. I got to be very careful with what I say these days,” he added.
Kyrgios, a mercurial personality known for on-court outbursts, didn’t appear to get much of a contact high from the ambient cannabis.
He was, per the Associated Press, “his usual animated self during the match, carrying on conversations with himself and people in the seats,” at one point receiving “a warning for using profanity when the target of his anger was somebody in his box who Kyrgios didn’t feel was being supportive enough.”
It was hardly the first time Kyrgios has objected to the behavior of the crowd. During the Wimbledon final in July, he complained to the umpire about a woman in attendance, saying it “looks like she’s had about 700 drinks.”
Friday, June 10, psychedelic advocate Aaron Genuth was arrested in Ulster County by New York State Police officers. He is facing serious charges for allegedly possessing several psychedelics including LSD, MDMA, ketamine, and psilocybin. Genuth is calling upon the psychedelic community for help.
Genuth’s vehicle was impounded, and beyond the severe charges he’s facing, he also has to deal with mounting legal fees. A GoFundMe was set up to help Genuth handle growing fees and charges, with support from the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society and Dr. Bronner’s.
Genuth is founder and president of Darkhei Rephua—a Jewish entheogenic nonprofit he founded. Aaron has been advocating for cannabis, psychedelic, and drug policy reform for over 15 years. He also works with Decriminalize Nature New York, the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society, and has hosted or produced a variety of community events in New York City and upstate New York over the years.
“Ironically, the psychedelics Aaron is being charged with are either legal in clinical settings, scientifically proven to be beneficial medicines, decriminalized in some places, or on the brink of legalization,” his GoFundMe reads. Ketamine, for instance, is FDA-approved in clinical settings, while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds psilocybin research. Psychedelics in general are amid a renaissance in the world of psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Friends and associates of Genuth are raising funds to help him A) recover his car and B) get on the road again, covering his initial expenses while he assesses the charges that were filed and legal fees.
Genuth spoke to High Times about his ongoing case and the current situation.
High Times: Should anyone be in jail for psychedelics (and cannabis for that matter)?
Genuth: No. Absolutely nobody should be in jail for psychedelics or cannabis, including me. Cannabis and psychedelic reform and legalization need to prioritize decriminalization and prisoner release and they really haven’t thus far.
Given your work with Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society and Darkhei Rephua, did you have legitimate, educational reasons for having psychedelics?
Yes I did, though I should probably not say much more than that due to the case being active. I will add that there’s no legitimate reason to arrest people for psychedelic or other drug possession.
Tell us what Darkhei Rephua is.
Darkhei Rephua is a 501(c)3 Jewish psychedelic nonprofit that I founded just as the pandemic began. Our focus is on spiritual health and healing that is rooted in community and nature, prioritizing advocacy for psychedelic medicine, culture, and experience. Over the last few years we’ve been hosting gatherings and outreach for New York’s psychedelic and cannabis communities, primarily in NYC and the Catskills. One of the factors that inspired me to found Darkhei was a reaction to the growing positive press around clinical studies and limited research on psychedelics in institutions like Johns Hopkins and NYU. I believe everyone should have access to psychedelic research and healing in the setting that is most optimal for them, including those who feel most comfortable with a medical doctor in a sterile clinical or research environment. I don’t, and I wouldn’t recommend it for most people. I’m concerned that the current representation and media around psychedelics still reinforces the idea that they are dangerous substances that most people shouldn’t be legally allowed to access, produce, or consume. That’s part of the same false narrative around cannabis that still exists—the idea that it should only be medically legal, or only legal if bought through legally regulated outlets, I believe that psychedelics should be represented in an honest and ethical way that first addresses the injustices of criminalization, the class and cost barriers that currently exists, and the fact that humans have been intentionally pursuing spiritual, transcendental, and drug experiences for our entire existence. Institutional researchers shouldn’t have any more legal access to psilocybin than community healers, or anyone capable of cultivating and consuming them. That’s what Darkhei Rephua represents to me, and hopefully to our community.
Tell us about your involvement with Decriminalize Nature New York.
My connection to Decriminalize Nature happened very organically and psychedelically. I was first introduced to the idea and group a week or so before the first initiative passed in Oakland in 2019. I was volunteering at the Queering Psychedelics conference at the table next to them so I had an opportunity to learn a lot about the resolution, and that it was expected to pass, possibly unanimously. This was just after the Denver Psilocybin Initiative had passed and the locally targeted and cultivation focused elements of Decriminalize Nature’s resolution, as well as expanding beyond psilocybin to include all naturally occurring entheogens inspired me to launch it in New York, thinking that we may have a good chance of passing a resolution in one of the progressive towns in the Hudson Valley. I co-launched the group in New York City, which is where I was entirely based at the time. Since the pandemic I’ve been spending most of my time in New York in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, where I joined the founding board of the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society as director of outreach and policy.
I’ve been a religious and recreational cannabis and psychedelic user for most of my life and I was deeply disappointed with many elements of cannabis ‘legalization’. I spent some time working in and covering cannabis in California just after legalization there in 2018, for publications that include High Times. I’d fallen in love with Northern California’s cannabis community and culture in 2006 or so, ever since my first visit to a pot farm in Humboldt County when I was dragged out west from Brooklyn by hippie friends for my first national Rainbow Gathering. I also worked in the industry around 2013, learning more about the legal and medical markets in California, Colorado, and Washington. When Prop 64 ultimately passed, I watched the cannabis industry quickly transition to a highly taxed, regulated and re-criminalized corporate system. I recognized the Decriminalize Nature model as much more reflective of what many of us wanted and expected to see from cannabis legalization; a complete and permanent end to law enforcement’s ability to arrest or otherwise violently harass us, and the right of all people to cultivate and share plants and fungi. Until we’ve done that, we’re still allowing the perpetuation of the horrific legacies of Anslinger, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Biden, and their many partners in drug war injustice and mass incarceration.
More recently, our group in New York City has had some disconnects with the national board in Oakland regarding some of their more antagonistic strategies and practices. We and some other local groups have launched a Decrim First coalition and initiative that includes all psychedelics and fights for decriminalization as a necessary first step to reforms like therapeutic and medical access. We’ll be operating under that banner while we work through the internal and external issues currently facing Decriminalize Nature. I’ve also been actively working with the New York Psilocybin Action Committee (NYPAC) to advocate for state level reforms that include decriminalization and cultivation in next year’s legislative session. I’ve also worked continually with Students for Sensible Drug Policy because they’re awesome and maintain the focus on student leadership in ending the war on drugs, which, as they like to remind us, is a war on (some) people.
What happened on June 10?
I’ll have to be somewhat sensitive about what I say here again, since the case is still active. I was pulled over for an expired inspection sticker. I declined repeatedly to consent to a search, so the officer arrested me for suspicion of DUI due to the smell of cannabis in the car, and searched my car. Long (and possibly incriminating) story short, I was charged with possession of psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. The 98 grams of psilocybin was initially charged as a felony, which would include a mandatory minimum of 3 years in state prison if convicted at trial under New York’s reformed but still draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Fortunately, I was able to find and retain a very good and qualified lawyer, through supporters of the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society. Just as fortunately, the Assistant DA is familiar with some of the positive research on psilocybin as well as the Oregon legalization so she dropped the felony down to a misdemeanor. I’m optimistic that my documented advocacy work and the very well documented benefits and positive research results surrounding all of these psychedelics will lead to a relatively positive resolution. I’ve pointed out many times since my arrest that a person without my network and willingness to fight might be in a much more difficult position, particularly if they are a parent and holding a state regulated license, for example a nurse or teacher. A person in that position might lose custody and their job regardless of the results of the trial, and possibly have permanent negative effects on their life.
Is it frustrating that there are FDA-approved ketamine-assisted therapy treatments, yet the punishments are severe?
Yes, very. It’s just as frustrating to me that ketamine treatments are prohibitively expensive for many, despite the drug being very plentiful and cheap to produce. That’s not to suggest that every practitioner is gouging people, the issue at its root is regulatory; the combination of bad drug and healthcare policy creating a perfect storm of disproportionate harm that targets the poorest and most vulnerable. Ketamine was first granted ‘breakthrough’ status by the FDA in 2013 and there’s clinics and practitioners all over the country legally providing this medicine safely, legally, and therapeutically—often with incredible results for people suffering from Treatment Resistant Depression, severe PTSD, and suicidality. It’s absurd that it’s not accessibly available to everyone who needs it in the middle of an extended national mental health, suicide, overdose, and financial crisis. I personally believe that all psychedelics should be completely covered under a Universal Holistic Healthcare program, along with any other healing medicine or modality.
What are some of the charges you’re facing?
I got paraphernalia charges for a scale and the bags that the mushrooms were in. I also got charged with a DUI, which is the charge I’m most concerned about since it’s completely false, I was absolutely sober and returned from the grocery store at 10:30am. I’m an advocate for drug users, drug possession, and responsible drug use, but not for driving unsafely or unsoberly so I’m going to fight those charges from every angle possible. The paraphernalia charges also shouldn’t exist, and are addressed in a bill that Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal will be introducing in the state legislature next year. I and some others from the Decrim community worked on those and other amendments that were added to the bill that AM Rosenthal has introduced for the last 3 years to deschedule psilocybin and psilocin. We also worked with her team on another bill she’s introducing, to introduce more decriminalized and community based research and openings to treatment.
What can readers do to help right now?
My case is hopefully going in the right direction, but it’s been a very expensive disruption to my life and work. Any contributions to my GoFundMe are deeply appreciated. We have a special offer currently; a limited number of donors giving $54 or more will receive a Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate, which they’ve generously provided and allowed me to offer as an incentive. (The chocolates are delicious and vegan and fair trade but not psychotropic, no weed or mushrooms in them.) For those in or connected to New York; please join the Decrim First coalition and support NYPAC! The quickest route I know of to do that is to DM us or comment on Instagram @DecrimFirst or email us at DecrimFirst@gmail.com.
I also urge all New Yorkers who care and can to actively support the policies represented in AM Rosenthal’s legislation by reaching out to your state representatives to support and co-sponsor it, and to push for local reform. Please connect with us for support in reaching out to local legislators and law enforcement about policy and legislation! We’ve got templates for legislation, outreach materials, and experienced advocates and experts ready to back you up. Written and video recorded testimonials can also be very influential. We believe that New York must take immediate steps to meaningful reform that includes cultivation, decriminalization, and community access, and that it’s possible within the next year.
A New York-based biotech firm has begun a clinical trial to study LSD as a treatment for anxiety, announcing last week that it had administered the psychedelic drug to a patient enrolled in the study for the first time. The research is designed to study the effectiveness of MM-120, a pharmaceutically optimized form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) from MindMed, in treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
MindMed is a biopharmaceutical company developing psychedelic therapies to treat mental health disorders. Robert Barrow, the chief executive officer of the company, said that the study is the largest well-controlled clinical trial of LSD ever conducted, adding that the research “represents a major milestone for MindMed and for the many patients suffering from GAD.”
“This exciting next step in the advancement of LSD builds on the positive topline data presented by our partners at University Hospital Basel in May 2022, which demonstrated the rapid, durable, and statistically significant effects of LSD and its potential to safely mitigate symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Barrow said in an August 25 statement from the company. “The results of our phase 2b trial will guide the dose selection and development strategy for our pivotal phase 3 clinical trials, as we continue our efforts to bring a new potential treatment to the millions of people living with GAD.”
GAD is a chronic and sometimes debilitating mental health disorder that affects nearly 6% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. Symptoms of GAD include excessive anxiety and worry that persists for over six months, which can lead to significant impairments in social, occupational and other functioning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). While there are substantial similarities between GAD, major depressive disorder (MDD) and other serious mental health conditions, research into the disorder has yielded little innovation in treatment over the past several decades.
MindMed’s phase 2b trial is a multi-center, parallel, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-optimization study. Investigators plan to enroll 200 participants who will receive either a single administration of up to 200 micrograms of MM-120 or a placebo. The primary objective is to determine the reduction in anxiety symptoms 4 weeks after a single administration of MM-120, compared across five groups of study participants. Key secondary objectives of the study, measured up to 12 weeks after the single administration, include assessments of safety and tolerability as well as the quality of life.
The Resurgence of LSD Research
The MindMed study is representative of the recent resurgence in research into psychedelic drugs as treatments for serious mental health conditions. Michael Pollan, a journalist and educator who this summer released “How to Change Your Mind,” a Netflix documentary series based on his 2018 book with the same title, notes that researchers studied LSD as a possible treatment for mental health disorders in the 1950s and ‘60s. The tide of opinion turned against the drug only after people began using it recreationally.
“With a powerful assist from Timothy Leary, the flamboyant Harvard psychology professor, psychedelics had escaped the laboratory, falling into the eager arms of the counterculture,” Pollan wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2018. “Yet in the decade before that there had been 1,000 published studies of LSD, involving 40,000 experimental subjects, and no fewer than six international conferences devoted to what many in the psychiatric community regarded as a wonder drug.”
In 1968, LSD was criminalized in the United States, largely ending research into the drug for decades. But interest in its value as a psychiatric medicine has rebounded. In July of this year, the American Psychiatric Association issued a statement that encouraged continued research into psychedelics as therapies for serious mental health conditions.
“There is currently inadequate scientific evidence for endorsing the use of psychedelics to treat any psychiatric disorder except within the context of approved investigational studies,” the APA wrote in a policy position approved by the professional group’s board of trustees. “APA supports continued research and therapeutic discovery into psychedelic agents with the same scientific integrity and regulatory standards applied to other promising therapies in medicine.”
New York officially began accepting applications for recreational cannabis dispensaries on Thursday, a milestone in the Empire State’s new era of legalization.
The state’s Office of Cannabis Management said that the window for the first round of applications will run until September 26.
As previously announced earlier this year, the first dispensary licenses will be awarded to individuals with cannabis-related convictions on their record, or family members of individuals who have been convicted of pot-related offenses, a program known as the “Seeding Opportunity Initiative.”
“Today’s announcement brings us to the precipice of legal, licensed cannabis sales in New York State,” Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, said in a statement on Monday. “With the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, New York has affirmed our commitment to making sure the first sales are conducted by those harmed by prohibition. We’re writing a new playbook for what an equitable launch of a cannabis industry looks like, and hope future states follow our lead.”
Chris Alexander, the executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, said that the launch of the application period marked a “monumental step in establishing the most equitable, diverse, and accessible cannabis industry in the nation.”
“We’ve worked to make this application as simple as possible for all interested applicants, and I cannot emphasize it enough that you do not need any legal expertise to fill this application out,” Alexander said.
The state announced the initiative back in March, with Alexander saying at the time that at least the first 100 dispensary licenses would be awarded to individuals with convictions.
Since legalizing recreational pot for adults last year, New York has made a concerted effort to do right by individuals and communities who were most adversely affected by cannabis prohibition.
In January, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the creation of a $200 million fund to support social equity applicants looking to enter the state’s new legal cannabis industry.
“New York’s legalized cannabis industry is in development, with the State expecting to issue licenses for adult recreational use. But the rise of what is estimated to be a $4.2 billion industry must create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities,” the governor’s office said in the announcement at the time.
“In support of that goal, Governor Hochul will create a $200 million public-private fund to support social equity applicants as they plan for and build out their businesses,” the announcement continued. “Licensing fees and tax revenue will seed the fund and leverage significant private investment.”
Last month, Hochul announced a $5 million grant to the state’s community colleges in support of “programs that will create or enhance non-degree and degree-eligible courses and programs, stackable credentials, and/or microcredentials that quickly address local employer skill needs within the cannabis sector, a projected multi-billion dollar industry with tens of thousands [of] jobs.”
“New York’s new cannabis industry is creating exciting opportunities, and we will ensure that New Yorkers who want careers in this growing sector have the quality training they need to be successful,” Hochul said in the announcement. “Diversity and inclusion are what makes New York’s workforce a competitive, powerful asset, and we will continue to take concrete steps to help ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate in the cannabis industry.”
The community colleges selected for the grant “must also partner with local employers in the cannabis industry and receive their input on curriculum development,” the state said last month, adding that “the New York State Department of Labor and the Office of Cannabis Management will support efforts to expand learning opportunities by helping to connect businesses and job seekers to these essential training programs.”
Officials in Erie County, New York announced last week that a series of cannabis conviction expungement clinics will be held in Buffalo beginning later this month, giving those with past marijuana offenses an opportunity to clear their records. The Erie County District Attorney’s office and the Erie County Bar Association’s Assigned Legal Counsel Program will host two expungement clinics, one later this week and the second next month.
When New York state lawmakers passed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis last year, they included provisions that allow those with past convictions for some weed-related offenses to have their records cleared. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a statement on Thursday that expungement can help address the harms caused by the failed War on Drugs.
“Now that New York State has legalized recreational cannabis, we must act on behalf of the people whose lives have been unfairly impacted by a marijuana-related conviction on their criminal record,” said Flynn. “In particular, African Americans have been disproportionally impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, which has hindered their pursuit of certain opportunities in life. I hope to give a fresh start to our citizens who have been living with these criminal convictions by offering legal support to expedite the expungement or reduction process.”
Flynn’s office noted that a criminal conviction, even for a minor marijuana offense, can have a lasting impact on those affected. A criminal record can negatively impact finding employment and housing and can cause a loss of eligibility for some social programs including college financial aid.
“After years of injustice perpetrated against impoverished and minority populations through the criminalization of marijuana, the New York State Legislature legalized the possession and adult use of marijuana in 2021,” said Kevin M. Stadelmaier of the Erie County Bar Association Assigned Legal Counsel Program. “This landmark legislation takes dramatic steps to substantially reduce crime, improve negatively affected communities and redress unjust convictions which occurred under the now repealed statutory regime. A major component of the new law is the expungement of most marijuana related convictions; providing those clients affected by the former laws the ability to move forward unburdened.”
Automatic Expungement for Some Cannabis Convictions
New York’s cannabis legalization law allows for the automatic expungement of many pot-related offenses no longer illegal under state law, including low-level possession or sales of marijuana and cannabis cultivation. Convictions for other more serious cannabis offenses may also be eligible for expungement or a reduction in charges or sentences, but require a motion to be filed with the relevant court.
Once expunged, a conviction will no longer appear on a criminal background check and does not need to be disclosed when applying for a job, student loans or housing. The conviction record will be sealed and remain confidential except if applying for a pistol permit or employment with a law enforcement agency.
“Expungement of marihuana-related convictions is a step towards righting one of the many injustices suffered by members of disadvantaged communities in our city,” said Sarah Ryan of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc. “Expungement gives people the ability to apply for employment, schooling, and housing without having a marihuana conviction negatively affect the better future they are hoping to achieve. Allowing people access to realizing dreams results in a better and more prosperous society for everyone. The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo thanks all the participants who are working towards this worthy project.”
Erie County residents who believe they have an eligible weed-related conviction are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming information sessions. Those seeking expungement or reduction must sign and complete an application form and a financial eligibility form to allow legal experts to obtain a copy of the applicant’s Court records and criminal history.
Attorneys will review the records to determine each person’s eligibility for conviction expungement or reduction. If eligible, attorneys will file a motion with the Court for an expungement or reduction of the criminal charge. The motion will be brought before a judge and prosecutors will consent to the dismissal or reduction of the conviction at a court date expected to occur this autumn. Applicants will be notified if their conviction is not eligible for expungement or reduction.
The first expungement informational clinic will be held on Thursday, August 25, 2022, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. A second clinic will be held on Saturday, September 24, 2022, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Both events will be held at Elim Christian Fellowship on 70 Chalmers Avenue in the City of Buffalo.
Police descended upon over a dozen weed trucks in the Times Square area of New York City Tuesday in the latest weed truck crackdown in the city. But some locals say there are more serious crimes that should be the focus of police.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) is fed up with the torrent of illegal cannabis trucks easily found on New York City streets. Many locals agree.
New York Daily Newsreports that one of the most prolific truck chains, “Weed World,” which sold mostly edibles, was forced to pay over $200,000 in parking fines and about a dozen of the chain’s trucks were cleared off the streets.
“If you are looking to buy illegal cannabis from the Weed World Bus located on 5th Avenue & 40th street it is no longer open for business,” NYPD Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey tweeted about the seizures. “We do not anticipate it opening for business anytime soon!”
Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, said that on any given day, there are about half a dozen weed trucks parked in the direct vicinity of Times Square. The responses on Twitter, however, were far from reaching a consensus.
Weed World said on August 15 that it paid $200,000 of the $500,000 in owed parking fines, and had worked out an installment plan with the city’s Department of Finance. Last June, law enforcement towed away 12 Weed World trucks and declined to release the trucks until the fines were paid. Weed World also operated a brick-and-mortar store nearby, just up Seventh Ave, and plans on getting a permit once they become available after gaining the attention of New York’s Cannabis Control Board.
In the latest sweep, the NYPD posted footage of 19 vehicles seized off city streets for allegedly selling cannabis products without permits.
The NYPD and other officials aren’t only going after weed trucks. State officials recently slapped 17 storefront cannabis operations (and trucks) with cease and desist letters for allegedly selling cannabis without a license, including Weed World on Seventh Ave. “There are no businesses currently licensed to sell adult-use cannabis in New York State, “Tremaine Wright, chair of New York’s Cannabis Control Board, said in a statement.
To be fair—cannabis isn’t Times Square’s only problem, and weed trucks might be the least of their problems. Last year, police shut down a “24-hour open air bazaar” that sold crack cocaine. That business operated without anyone batting an eye for two years. In that instance, a crew worked “round-the-clock shifts” at 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, according to the NYPD and federal authorities.
The operation was open 24/7 and launched in December 2019, in perhaps one of the only places in America that you could get away with it that long. Police called it “Operation Ghostbuster.”