Blog Post

Why You Should Pay Attention to the New York and New Mexico Legalization Campaigns

Dilara Balkan

In 2021, advocates in New York and New Mexico—two states where DPA has a long history of fighting to reform drug policy—are campaigning to legalize marijuana. These legalization efforts are different than efforts in most other states because they not only disrupt arrests for use and possession of marijuana, but also prioritize reinvesting in communities and providing retroactive justice to those most harmed by racist drug policies. 

Passing comprehensive legalization like the efforts in New York and New Mexico is extremely important, especially now. Equitable marijuana legalization means that a significant portion of marijuana tax revenue would be reinvested in the communities that bore the worst of marijuana law enforcement and that are now doubly pummeled by COVID-19 deaths, job losses, and business closures. New York and New Mexico are putting themselves into position to receive support and resources from marijuana legalization in order to help recover from these multiple crises - if they can legalize it the right way.


Smart START NY is a campaign to end racially biased and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition in the state of New York. It was convened by DPA in partnership with groups dedicated to creating a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in racial and economic justice. 

Governor Cuomo has said that legalization is a priority for him this legislative session -- but it’s vital for New York to legalize the right way. New York can be a working model for marijuana legalization across the country, but that requires more robust social equity and community reinvestment provisions than are in the Governor’s current proposal. 

The legalization bill pending in the NY Legislature, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, championed by Senator Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes and Smart START NY, goes further than Gov. Cuomo’s framework and would: 

  • Provide a licensing system that favors small businesses and family farmers, working against the corporate consolidation of the marijuana industry, and make the industry more inclusive and accessible to those with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing. 
  • Reinvest tax revenue into communities harmed by the war on drugs and mass incarceration through job training opportunities, economic benefits, and youth development programming, among other efforts including public education and drug treatment. 
  • Protect individuals against housing and employment discrimination and provide retroactive justice for those impacted by marijuana prohibition (specifically in the fields of immigration and child welfare). 
  • Create more resources for comprehensive, reality-based drug education for youth, in addition to providing more protection to reduce youth access to marijuana. 
  • Employ social equity licensing and other programs to integrate individuals impacted by marijuana prohibition into the industry. 

Not only does the MRTA push back against failed drug war policies, it also works to provide retroactive justice to those most impacted. 

“When it comes to responsibly regulating marijuana, it's critical that we don't just get this done, but we get it right. Equity must be the guiding force, and we will continue to push the Governor's administration and legislative leaders to ensure any new law comprehensively addresses the harms to communities wrought by the war on drugs through dedicated community reinvestment. New Yorkers are more ready than ever to create a new paradigm for marijuana reform. Let's make 2021 the year for marijuana justice.” - Melissa Moore, New York State Director at DPA

Follow the Start SMART NY campaign on Instagram and Twitter and get updates from the New York Policy Office on Facebook and Twitter.

Grow NM

DPA’s New Mexico office is campaigning to create a holistic marijuana legalization bill that not only legalizes cannabis for individuals 21+, but also works to reinvest in communities most devastated by the drug war and establish a diverse and inclusive cannabis industry. With unprecedented bipartisan support, organizations like DPA and our Grow New Mexico campaign are working to push for legislation now, as a marijuana legalization bill will not only increase economic opportunities, but also provide the people of New Mexico with safe access to marijuana products. 

We are working to guarantee the following in the proposed legislation:

  • Marijuana legalization must provide retroactive justice to those previously who faced the consequences of marijuana criminalization, including sealing criminal records.
  • Marijuana legalization must be an accessible, diverse, and inclusive industry.
  • Marijuana tax revenue must be reinvested into communities that have been impacted by prohibition. 

“New Mexicans are ready for cannabis legalization, and they want to see equity built into the legislative proposal to help right the many wrongs caused by the failed war on drugs.” - Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of Resident States and New Mexico at DPA

Follow the campaign on Facebook to learn more.

Dilara Balkan is a communications intern with Drug Policy Alliance.