New York Cannabis Legalization Deal Imminent

"This is definitely a ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy the good’ situation."


On Thursday, March 25, New York lawmakers reached a deal to legalize marijuana in the state. But despite early reports, advocates claim the ink is not dry.

From bits and pieces making it out of the backroom discussions, the deal sounds promising. David C. Holland of the New York City Cannabis Industry Association jumped on the phone with us to clarify where the effort stood, as the rumor mill reached its peak Thursday. The NYCCIA is currently described as a thinktank waiting to transition into an industry trade group. But it hopes to retain its ethos as it moves forward as the metro cannabis industry expands.

“I’m not reading tea leaves anymore. It’s definitely a lot of hearsay that sounds all very good,” Holland said. “It looks like the governor has sort of conceded a lot to the Legislature and its MRTA (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act) proposal.”Gov. Cuomo’s original legalization plan, the Cannabis Regulation Taxation Act, was attached to the budget in January. As lawmakers worked to hammer out a budget deal by April 1, legalization was always in play. But eventually, things progressed to where we could be talking about a vote next week after the bill has had a few days to season. Holland explained that in recent years, while the Cuomo administration worked on the legalization issue, in the end it didn’t want to leave other budget goals hostage to cannabis legalization. “He pulled it out knowing that the votes weren’t there for that. It was too big a sticking point,” he said.

Once Albany lawmakers enter the legislative session on April 1, they are expected to file their counter-proposal to the governor, the Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act, as they have in years past. “The fundamental difference between them is basically the board that governs the program for the governor’s proposal is five hand-picked people that the Legislature has no say,” Holland said, expecting whatever the final compromise looks like will see the governor’s administration give some room there. “In this new hybrid we’re hearing about, the governor has three, but at least there’s mixed power. The second big difference under those proposals is not only who controls the program but how are those revenues are divided up and for what projects.”

We asked Holland if the deal that’s reached includes the effective mechanisms for community reinvestment like equity programs and homegrown, two things that felt absent in a tangible way in the budget plan. “I think it looks much better than what had been proposed by the governor, yeah,” Holland replied. “I mean, this is definitely a ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy the good’ situation, but it’s a long way from being optimal, you know? There’s still lots of room for improvement.”

Holland said every time he gets another little tidbit of detail it all sounds very positive. “You see it all in the hearsay that you’re getting there. Each time I hear something, it’s something dramatically new.”

Holland explained that whatever deal is reached, it’s not legalization that comes out of the conference room. The resulting bill from the deal then has to season for three legislative days that they’re in session on the floor before it can be voted on. “I think what they’re doing is rushing to get it out and get it voted on early next week before the budget session ends and the legislative session begins,” Holland said.

Holland spoke to whether he thought an appropriate level of stakeholder input from the grassroots level was coming in. He spoke from the activist side as director at Empire State NORML and an advocate trying to help businesses lay their foundations for what’s to come. “I definitely feel things like homegrown, things like expungement, particularly tax rates to some degree, the community investment, the opportunities, the prioritization of equity applicants, I think that’s all very much a product of the advocacy communities,” Holland replied.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s state director Melissa Moore expects to see the deal done by the end of the month. “It sounds like it’s extremely close. It’s down to just some real technicalities,” Moore told the Village Voice. “From what I understand, the conceptual agreement is there, and we’re looking forward to seeing the bill language.”

We asked Moore if she’d heard how much flexibility advocates were able to get from the governor’s office on the deal. She told us that it sounded like much of the discussion was born from the legislature’s efforts. “We’ve long supported [the Legislature’s version], which has much better provisions in terms of community reinvestment and social equity, dealing with all of the consequences, and ongoing lifelong impacts that people have had to deal with because of prior cannabis criminalization,” Moore said. “And truly, you know, ushering in a new era of marijuana justice for New York. Assuming the bill matches up with that, once it’s printed, we’re really excited about it.”


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