Will the Lack of License Caps in New York Ensure an Inclusive Cannabis Industry?
When New York legalized adult-use cannabis last year, many lawmakers were adamant that cannabis reform include provisions to address the harms of decades of prohibition. As the state transitioned into a legal cannabis economy, legislators wanted to ensure that the economic opportunities of legal cannabis were in reach for all New Yorkers, particularly members of communities of color and other marginalized groups that historically bore the brunt of the War of Drugs. The evidence is clear. Despite research that shows that Blacks and whites use cannabis at about the same rates, a 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Blacks were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for a pot-related charge. In New York, 93 percent of those arrested for cannabis in New York City in 2020 were Black or Hispanic. Less than 5 percent were white, a group that makes up 45 percent of the city’s population. Equity in New York Legalization Because of this disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) approved in New York last March includes restorative justice measures such as the expungement of past cannabis convictions. The legislation also incorporates social equity provisions to help ensure the economic spoils of legalization are enjoyed by all. Significantly, the legislation reserves half of the state’s cannabis licenses for retailers, cultivators, processors and other businesses owned by women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and “individuals who have lived in communities disproportionally impacted” by the failed War on Drugs. The social equity goals of the MRTA are currently being implemented. In January, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul allocated $200 million in the state budget to create a fund to help social equity applicants meet some of the costs of launching a cannabis business. And last week, state regulators announced that the…
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