Amendments Added To Proposed Cannabis Legislation In New York
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced 30-day amendments to his proposal to establish a comprehensive adult-use cannabis program in New York. Specifically, these amendments will detail how the $100 Million in Social Equity funding will be allocated, enable the use of delivery services, and refine which criminal charges will be enforced as it relates to the improper sale of cannabis to further reduce the impact on communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.
“As we work to reimagine, rebuild and reopen New York, we’re taking every opportunity to address and correct decades of institutional wrongs to build back better than ever before,” Governor Cuomo said. “We know that you cannot overcome a problem without first admitting there is one. Our comprehensive approach to legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provides the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also enables us to directly support the communities most impacted by the war on drugs by creating equity and jobs at every level, in every community in our great state.”
Allocation of $100 Million Cannabis Social Equity Fund
Social and economic equity are the bedrock of Governor Cuomo’s proposal to legalize cannabis for adult-use and as part of that, the Governor’s proposal includes a $100 million dollar fund to help revitalize communities that have been most harmed by the war on drugs.
Through this fund, qualified community-based nonprofit organizations and local governments would apply for funding to support a number of different community revitalization efforts, including, but not limited to:
- Job placement and skills services,
- Adult education,
- Mental health treatment,
- Substance use disorder treatment,
- Financial literacy,
- Community banking,
- Nutrition services,
- Services to address adverse childhood experiences,
- Afterschool and child care services, system navigation services,
- Legal services to address barriers to reentry, and
- Linkages to medical care, women’s health services and other community-based supportive services
The grants from this program may also be used to further support the social and economic equity program.
Under the amended proposal, the Department of State would allocate the funding, through grants administered by Empire State Development Corporation, in collaboration with the departments of Labor and Health, as well as with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and the offices of Addiction Services and Supports and Children and Family Services. Final allocations and administration of funding would also be contingent upon approval from the Division of the Budget.
Enabling the Use of Delivery Services
The legalization of cannabis is expected to play an important role in helping rebuild New York’s economy following the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, legalization is projected to create more than 60,000 new jobs, and spur $3.5 billion in economic activity while generating an estimated $350 million in tax revenue once fully implemented.
Cannabis legalization also has the potential to have a significant economic benefit on distressed areas in New York, providing employment opportunities for all levels of the workforce. As social and economic equity are the bedrock of Governor Cuomo’s proposal, delivery services offer a low-cost entry point into the industry, particularly in communities which have been especially impacted by the war on drugs.
Recognizing this, the Governor is amending his proposal to allow for the permitting of delivery services as a way to open up access to this new industry even further so more New Yorkers can participate as it grows. As part of this, local governments would have the opportunity to opt out from delivery services occurring within their jurisdiction.
Criminality of Improper Sales
When establishing a new product market as the Governor’s proposal does, there will inevitably be attempts by bad actors to skirt rules and commit fraud for their own financial gain. This makes it critically important to ensure that penalties are carefully calibrated to ensure that all those who wish to participate in this new market, are operating on the same level playing field.
Cannabis, however, adds another complicating factor to this dynamic – years of outdated policies stemming from the War on Drugs have disproportionately impacted communities of color. Already, New York has taken steps to decriminalize cannabis and as this new market is realized, and it’s critical that criminal penalties are thoughtfully assigned, as to ensure that the progress which has already been made, is not inadvertently reversed.
As such, under the Governor’s amended proposal, specific penalties will be reduced as follows:
- Criminal sale in the third degree (sale to under 21 year old) will be made a class A misdemeanor
- Criminal sale in the second degree (sale of over 16 ounces or 80 grams of concentrate) will be made a class E felony
Criminal sale in the first degree (sale of over 64 ounces or 320 grams of concentrate) will be made a class D felony
The Governor’s proposal builds on years of work to understand and decriminalize cannabis for adult use. In 2018, the Department of Health, under Governor Cuomo’s direction, conducted a multi-agency study which concluded that the positive impacts of legalizing adult-use cannabis far outweighed the negatives. It also found that decades of cannabis prohibition have failed to achieve public health and safety goals and have led to unjust arrests and convictions particularly in communities of color.
In 2019, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to decriminalize the penalties for unlawful possession of marijuana. The legislation also put forth a process to expunge records for certain marijuana convictions. Later that year, the Governor spearheaded a multi-state summit to discuss paths towards legalization of adult-use cannabis that would ensure public health and safety and coordinate programs regionally to minimize the cross-border movement of cannabis products.
Building on that important work, the Governor’s proposal reflects national standards and emerging best practices to promote responsible use, limiting the sale of cannabis products to adults 21 and over and establishing stringent quality and safety controls including strict regulation of the packaging, labeling, advertising, and testing of all cannabis products. Cannabis regulation also offers the opportunity to invest in research and direct resources to communities that have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition.