New York State Committee To Legalize Marijuana
Special Release
Dennis Levy
April 14,2018

New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program Lacks Diversity

Brother Rick Levy & President of NYSCTLM Dennis Levy
- Dennis Levy
As President of ‘New York State Committee To Legalize Marijuana’ (NYSCTLM), I have been concerned about the the lack of racial diversity in New York’s Medical Marijuana Program. Around 2014, NYSCTLM filed a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) with New York State’s medical marijuana program seeking answers to questions regarding diversity e.g. who are the people on the selection panel for medical marijuana licence? My F.O.I. request has been continually delayed more than 12 times since. As if on cue, the New York Times filed an F.O.I. request.

The September 2015 Freedom of Information request by The New York Times, also seeking the names of the panel's 'members, 'was delayed nine times’.Suddenly, the DOH reversed course and disclosed the names of the panel's 17 evaluators. They were all state employees most with little or no prior professional experience in medical marijuana. They included a number of Health department scientists as well as three architects, an accountant, and an auditor. They were chosen to "create a multidisciplinary team." The panel members are also predominantly White and males.

The ‘Panel’ picked five companies to launch the program in January 2016: MedMen, formerly known as Bloomfield Industries; Columbia Care; Etain; PharmaCann; and Vireo Health of New York. Four of the five (5) companies are owned by White men. One company, Etain is owned and operated by a White woman. In 2017 the Health Department ‘Panel’ announced it has licensed five new companies to join the five existing firms that grow and sell medical marijuana products in New York State. The five companies to get the licenses are: Citiva Medical; Fiorello Pharmaceuticals; New York Canna; PalliaTech NY and Valley Agriceuticals.

Citiva Medical CEO is a White woman. The other four new companies are headed by White men. The lack of racial diversity in New York's Medical Marijuana Program is glaringly exposed now.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,to make matters worse, a disportionate number of people serving prison time for marijuana are Black men. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

In January 2018, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse convened a public hearing to discuss the ‘Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), aimed to legalize the use, distribution, and production of cannabis for adults aged 21 and over. Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Association said “New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color, funneling tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the maze of the criminal justice system every year and putting people at risk of deportation, losing custody of their children, and barring them from employment and housing for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana.”

She continued, “As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers.” Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice, told legislators that New York can no longer wait on the sidelines, and continue to jail residents at the highest national rates, while other states are tackling the work of meaningful drug reform. “It is time that New York State joins the cadre of progressive states that are acting smart on marijuana regulation," Cartagena commented by email. "We need to pivot and address the pressing needs of regulation while simultaneously eliminating the criminal consequences of marijuana possession and restoring the previous harms that prohibitionist modalities created. In short, we need New York State to help lead a marijuana revolution, because it’s just, it’s rational, and it’s time."

In 2018, a team of NYSCTLM volunteers, began to research how other States are addressing the issue of racism in the marijuana industry. 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.

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.

Dennis Levy is a Black man and President of. New York State committee To Legalize Marijuana.’ The volunteer organization advocates for New York to legalize recreational Marijuana and regulate it like alcohol and cigarettes. Levy has become the leader of the effort to organized an equity program in New York to address its lack of diversity..
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