News of New York’s new legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A), signed into law by embattled governor Cuomo, turned few heads. It’s hard to grab media attention these days unless you do something really troubling or really extraordinary. Oklahoma’s recent stance on cannabis was more interesting simply because it is a very red, very white, and very conservative state. The OK approach is from a farmer’s point of view. Seed-to-sale. But medical use only.
New York has chosen a full-blown bureaucratic approach, creating the Office of Cannabis Management, and laying the groundwork for licenses and taxation. I predict a lot of forms and fees and ways to monetize every step in the process of growing, curing, and distributing product. We need the tax revenue, for sure. I can’t wait to see what the website will like. It couldn’t possibly be worse that the rest of the NYS websites. Could it? (On one NYS site, I once counted half a dozen links that looped back to themselves.)
A key provision of NY’s law, however, is geared towards the very populations that the city and state once incarcerated en masse — for possessing cannabis. Yes, the old “stop and frisk” days, with cops rounding up mostly young black men on a Friday night. (Friday meant “collars for dollars”overtime for the cops and a weekend in Central Booking for the arrested.) These are the good old days that cause certain people to wax nostalgic. You know who you are.
Stated on their webpage, the OCM will create a “Social and Economic Equity Program Encouraging Individuals Disproportionately Impacted by Cannabis Enforcement to Participate in Industry.”
All of this sounds great. Rather than arrest and incarcerate cannabis users, the city and state have made a few promises regarding job creation. Of course, we need jobs. NY shed tens of thousands of jobs during the pandemic. For those interested in getting in on the ground floor of all things cannibis, the fear is that all the licenses and opportunities will be taken by big players with deep pockets, leaving behind the very people to whom the promise of equity was made. This fear in not unfounded.
I applaud NYS for this major step forward. However, just reading the law gave me pause. It creates an uneasy balance between HARVESTERS (e.g. freshly minted Wharton MBAs and hedge fund bros), who have the capital and connections to immediately commandeer the OCM, and the GLEANERS who have little but who now could become small business owners and entrepreneurs. The former have no qualms at all about eliminating the latter. The former have nothing to do with community. The latter do.
This new initiative has the potential to be something really game changing and positive. It also has the potential to be just another bureaucratic nightmare, mired in the legal morass that we just cannot seem to get enough of here in NY. It could also become nothing more than a cannabis version of big tobacco, with all the wealth going to corporate bonuses and PACs, while the agricultural lands are left in grinding poverty. Let’s see happens.