Advocates held a rally on Tuesday, following last week’s revelations by The City’s Rosalind Adams showing the plan to finance New York’s cannabis industry moved forward despite the major concerns of numerous people involved in the process of implementing the state’s recreational cannabis program.

The Juneteenth Eve rally included elected officials, social justice advocates, and people impacted personally by New York’s longtime war on cannabis. They hoped to protect the progressive aspects of New York’s legalization law, prevent corporate control and increase the weight of community voices moving forward.

Chief among those advocates’ concerns across the 500 emails obtained by The City got access to was the fact that the deal sucked. The things that immediately raised eyebrows included steep costs and unreasonable repayment timelines. Most importantly these concerns were raised with the Governor Kathy Hochul as her office pushed to make her previous promises on funding the cannabis program a reality. 

“The social equity component of the MRTA is absolutely essential for our communities in Brooklyn and Queens,” said Senator Julia Salazar. “MRTA implementation is a chance to address the harm that too many New Yorkers have experienced due to many years of criminalization. But the encroachment of big cannabis corporations in New York’s market poses a threat to the MRTA’s success, especially for small, legal cannabis businesses. For the good intent of the MRTA to become reality for more communities of color and justice-impacted New Yorkers, we need Governor Hochul to allow the Cannabis Control Board to function as an independent body, and for the Office of Cannabis Management to be empowered to continue to implement the MRTA equitably.”

Salazar hit the nail on the heart in terms of who should be taking the lead. The concerns from New York’s Office of Cannabis Management about the funding deal were ignored. Following the struggle for New York to provide true access statewide, the OCM was thrown under the bus for the state’s failure despite raising numerous red flags they found and raised about the Chicago Atlantic Group deal. The City noted an OCM financial analyst used all caps to note how BAD it was. 

The Drug Policy Alliance calls New York City home and has been at the forefront of the work to get New York legal over the years. Executive Director Kassandra Frederique offered a scathing critique as news first got out about Hochuls’s administration moving ahead with a predatory lender that exploited Black and Brown cannabis licencees while keeping lawmakers in the dark. 

Frederique called the Hochul administration’s mishandling of the legal marijuana rollout deeply concerning, and strikingly echoed the Governor’s congestion pricing reversal. 

“In both instances, she bypassed the Legislature’s will and rejected agency expertise to enact sweeping changes without a concrete plan,” Frederique said, “It’s now clear that her administration knew of DASNY’s failures to build retail space and ignored repeated warnings from the Office of Cannabis Management about predatory loans harming mostly Black and Brown licensees. Instead of addressing these issues, the Hochul administration agreed to unfavorable loan terms with a disreputable creditor and then scapegoated the former OCM leader for the rollout’s failures.

Frederique went on to note how devastating this was to the communities of color most decimated by disproportional enforcement of the state’s cannabis laws in their neighborhoods. 

“What Governor Hochul calls social equity has only made cannabis licensees more vulnerable to exploitation,” Frederique said, “Our communities deserve better—real equity, real opportunities, and an administration that follows the law’s intent. The Governor must present a clear plan for delivering the next phase of our justice-centered cannabis framework in accordance with the law.”

Shaleen Title has spent the last two decades pushing for an equitable cannabis industry. She is founder and director of the drug policy think tank Parabola Center, which creates model policies to protect people rather than corporate profits. She currently serves as Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioner in Residence at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and as vice-chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition. It’s tough to find a voice that carries more weight on the regulatory side when it comes to discussing Social Equity in cannabis. 

We asked Title her thoughts on what was happening in New York. She said DPA offered a great statement on the subject already but offered some further reading.

“The governor’s narrative that the Office of Cannabis Management was “inexperienced” deserves further examination,” Title said, “The new evidence shows that the governor’s office ignored OCM’s warnings and moved ahead with a failed initiative and then used the OCM and its leadership as a scapegoat.”

Title closed pointing to the positive aspects of what is happening in New York despite the hiccups. 

“Any fair evaluation of New York’s rollout comparing its metrics against its own goals, and metrics in other states, demonstrates that New York leads the nation in terms of racial equity and cannabis — not surprising, given that its staff has been led by some of the country’s top experts on cannabis and equity, data, civil rights law, and antitrust law,” Title said, 

Ahead of the rally outside of Hochul’s office, DPA noted other positives from New York’s rollout being overshadowed in the controversy of the moment. Those include things like 95% of New York’s cannabis retail market is small businesses. But more importantly, New York has nearly tripled the number of Black-owned retail dispensaries nationwide in just 15 months.

“The Governor can change the players, but for NY activists who know that this is a marathon for equity and not a sprint, the game doesn’t change. We will continue to hold her accountable to the letter of the most equitable cannabis law in the country. This means that fifty percent of the market must be comprised of social equity outcomes including those from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. We will not stop advocating for the state budget and support that it will take for NY to get there, despite the machine, including MSOs, that we are up against,” said Annette Fernandez, Managing Partner, High Exposure Agency; Founder, La Casa Lola; and Provisional Retail License Applicant.

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