New York State Committee To Legalize Marijuana
Special Release
Opinion
Dennis Levy
April 14,2018
646-918-7292


New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program Lacks Diversity

President of NYSCTLM Dennis Levy & Brother Bruce Levy
- Dennis Levy
As President of ‘New York State Committee To Legalize Marijuana’ (NYSCTLM), I have been concerned about the the lack of racial and gender diversity in New York’s Medical Marijuana Program. Indeed, The diversity, or lack thereof, in the marijuana industry has been a concern for advocates nationwide for years. Around 2014, NYSCTLM filed a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) with New York State’s medical marijuana program seeking answers to questions regarding diversity. It has been continually delayed more than 12 times since. Nevertheless, events beyond my control moved the diversity issue forward.


In 2015 the Health Department decided to award five additional licenses in New York. Now, the lack of diversity made the New York medical marijuana industry look like a marijuana monopoly run by white men! State Senator Diane Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island who was a champion of the 2014 legislation that created the program, supported the expansion but she was worried about the older companies suing the state to stop the expansion. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, another of the program’s legislative sponsors, echoed Ms. Savino’s call for more dispensaries, saying that “it would help existing producers.” Shockingly, neither politician raised the lack of racial and gender diversity in the program. Formal statistics do not exist, but first-hand accounts and reports confirm that cannabis entrepreneurs in New York are overwhelmingly white.


Fast forward to 2018, the city of San Francisco announced that it would “wipe out or reduce the sentencings for all cannabis-related crime convictions, misdemeanors, and felonies, dating back to 1975.” This meant that thousands of primarily people of color who are serving time or who have served time will have their cases reviewed,” and will have their old marijuana records expunged. I would like to see similar legislation in New York State that would expunge criminal records for marijuana users and immediately release prisoners serving time for marijuana related crimes.


I began researching other marijuana programs with racial equity programs across America. The facts are tragic. Recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states. A report from Arcview Market Research predicts that the entire legal marijuana market will reach $24.5 billion in sales — a 28% annual growth rate — by 2021, as more state-legal markets come online. But an investigation by BuzzFeed estimates that only about 1 percent of the nation’s more than 3,500 marijuana dispensaries are owned by Black Americans. And, a disportionate number of people serving prison time for marijuana are Black men. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.


Based on the disturbing lack of marijuana dispensaries owned by Black and Latino Americans in New York, we are seeking a equity program with true racially and economically inclusive outcomes. “It’s disappointing that the very people impacted the most by this part of the war on drugs are not now able to participate in what is now the legal regulated world,” says attorney Christian Sederberg. He’s with the so-called Marijuana Law Firm in Colorado, where weed is legal. “And it’s not just because of criminal backgrounds, but because these businesses in some states have high barriers to entry: lots of money, huge infrastructure costs and political connections. It’s not that no people of color have those, but it’s a classic American sort of new industry dominated by white men.”


We want our New York equity program to be modeled after the one in Oakland. It launched its cannabis equity assistance program, which is designed to help people who either lack the capital to start their own business or have been restricted from doing so because of past weed crime convictions. States with legalized marijuana programs are moving fast to set up marijuana equity programs.


The time is right for New York to consider some type of equity program to ‘level the playing field’. In New York, that means removing economic barriers to entering the industry (application fees, license fees and startup fees) are extortionately high. We are scheduling a meeting with the dean of New York Pot laws Assemblyman Gottfried to seek support and advise on a equity program for New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program. Only time will tell if New York State is ready to truly ‘level the playing field’ in the medical marijuana industry. Let’s roll out a solid equity program that can be easily used when recreational marijuana is approved in New York.

Written by Dennis Levy. For more information: nysctlm@gmail.com .



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