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Repairing New York's Economy And Community By Legalizing Cannabis

August 10, 2020 12:06 pm
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By Justin Johnson, Founder & CEO of BudsFeed.

The legalization of adult use cannabis would greatly benefit New York’s citizens and economy. If implemented correctly, the results could provide immense and long-lasting relief to the city and communities most affected by prohibition. With the city and state facing a myriad of pressing concerns, from staggering debt to police reform, these are a few ways I believe legalization of marijuana could offset some of the ongoing pains.

New York could create scores of job opportunities if adult use cannabis were legal. A February 2020 report from Leafly reported that the legal cannabis industry created 243,700 full-time jobs by the turn of the year. That number may have taken a slight decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that should be just a momentary setback. The Leafly report shows that the market is on the rise, with a 15% uptick in jobs from the year before.

States leading the pack include Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Illinois. New York could quickly become a leader if it were to legalize adult use cannabis. Frankly it’s already the leader, it’s just not regulated.

See also: The State of Colorado: Medical Marijuana Cardholders Increase Monthly Spending In Q2

New York is forecasted to be one of the biggest markets in the world. Due to state legislation, little has developed so far. Only 10 companies hold licenses for the state medical market. When New York eventually passes adult use laws, scores of license holders will enter the market and create jobs. A 2019 report by Weedmaps found that New York State could add nearly 40,000 jobs while attracting numerous investors if it were to pass legislation. And did we mention tourism?

Offsetting the Underperforming Medical Market

New York's medical marijuana market has underperformed since its onset, but not at the hands of its operators. This statement shouldn't come as much of a surprise to most. For years, New York had one of the most restrictive marketplaces in the country, limiting the opportunity for patients and businesses alike. Many patients who would qualify in other states were excluded from the qualifying conditions list for a long time. Meanwhile, the state has increased its license limit just once since its onset, rising from 5 to 10 licensed operators. Oh, and until Curaleaf got innovative, the program couldn’t even sell flower in any form!

As a result, tax revenue results have underperformed in recent years.

Advocates got the ball rolling on program reforms. However, the truth is that much of the movement came in the past few years when it became apparent how lucrative the market could become. In 2018, Comptroller Scott Stringer put forth the commonly cited $3.1 billion market expectations. Stringer also forecasted a New York City market that could generate $1.1 billion on its own. The comptroller's figures pointed towards the city seeing $336 million in tax revenue, with the state seeing $436 million for itself.

See also: My Experience From 24 Years In California Cannabis: From Compassionate Use To A Corporate Buyout

With the program improving, and lawmakers making efforts to advance reform, many, including myself, believe that the future hinges on the legalization of adult use products.

Addressing the Ongoing Arrest Disparity

New York City's ugly history of racial profiling is one that will linger for quite a long time to come. The atrocious results of broken window theory, stop and frisk, and plainclothes officer interactions led to the disruption of lives, families and communities as scores of Black men and women were arrested, sentenced to prison and even killed for marijuana or nothing at all.

In 2018, New York City made attempts to correct these wrongs by ending arrests for most cannabis offenses. The result saw arrests plummet the following year. However, the overwhelming majority of arrests continued to be people of color, namely Black and Latinx individuals. Governor Andrew Cuomo took further action to address some of the pains inflicted by the drug war and policing. Roughly 160,000 New Yorkers saw their low-level cannabis offenses expunged. The move accompanied the decriminalization of small amount possessions.
See also: Black Veteran Sent To Prison For Medical Marijuana: What's Wrong With Our Cannabis Laws?

Yet, the policing continued, with most of the focus on the same marginalized communities. In April, a viral video showing plainclothes police officers using what appeared to be excessive force stemmed from an alleged low-level possession accusation. In light of the ongoing protests for victims, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the New York Police Department (NYPD) announced it would disband the 600-officer plainclothes unit.

Despite the reforms, policing continues to target people of color, with marijuana and other peaceful actions at the root of the alleged offense. By legalizing marijuana, another immense step would be made in reducing the systemic oppression occurring in New York City and the state.

Embracing the Legacy Market

States that attempt to curb the legacy market often find themselves up against a behemoth that comes with dedicated consumers, passionate advocates and prices it can’t compete against. New York would be wise to avoid such pain points by embracing the legacy market. Instead of becoming the next California, New York should consider how it can embrace the innovators forced to operate in the illicit market.

This embracing is that much more important because much of New York’s legacy market is comprised of people of color. Those that faced convictions often face difficult circumstances where finding viable work outside of the illicit market is rare.

Why not end the struggle and show them that there is a place at the legal market? Instead of making an enemy, why not find ways to create a market together? New York could show other states how to properly acknowledge and integrate the OGs and those affected by the drug war with communities and infrastructure in place.

See also: MI's Longest-Serving Non-Violent Cannabis Offender Hospitalized For Presumed COVID-19: How To Help

The next step is providing adequate equity programs to create an equitable and inclusive space for all. They need to think beyond the basic. Just because an equity program might offer a person of color 40% off on a dispensary license, they may still be underbanked and unable to pay a $500,000 fee. Instead, if we mandate far-reaching equitable programs, it will put pressure on private investors and traditional banks to invest in Black businesses to be part of the action themselves.

New York State faces a situation where it could sink itself, or serve as an example of how to implement fair and inclusive reform while creating a lucrative revenue stream for the state. Here's hoping it does the right thing this time.

Justin is an entrepreneurial marketing expert with a common name and an uncommon background spanning business development, digital content creation, technology, and cannabis. With career stints in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, Justin helped pioneer some of the earliest and biggest social media campaigns for Fortune 500 brands like American Express, Walmart, Unilever, and Frito-Lay. After working with every major social platform over the last decade, Justin saw a growing audience for cannabis-related information, and few platforms that condoned it. With BudsFeed.com, Justin set out to create a community powered channel for those seeking a broad range of cannabis related products, services and information, and for brands seeking to grow their awareness. 

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

Photo by Tania Fernandez on Unsplash