Governor Cuomo Announces Plan for Marijuana Legalization, Calls for Automatic Record Sealing and Economic Justice

Press Release January 15, 2019
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Melissa Moore 646-470-2827

Today Governor Cuomo called for effectively ending marijuana prohibition in New York State and creating a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol for adults over the age of 21. Advocates have emphasized the need for reform be rooted in racial and economic justice—not solely a cash grab—and highlighted that legalization must center those who have been impacted.

Members of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) – which is comprised of organizations and advocates dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, public health, and community-based organizations who support legalization – affirmed that legislation must center the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.  This means reinvesting new tax revenues in these communities and remedying problems that stem from biased enforcement, which disproportionately affects Black and Latino New Yorkers. This reinvestment must be community-led, responsive to the harms caused, and accountable to communities.  

Statement from Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“Repairing the damage done by marijuana prohibition is not negotiable.  Restitution to communities most impacted by marijuana prohibition is the starting line.  Legalization in New York must be as comprehensive as the damage that has been done throughout the state.”

“We have the chance to pass the most progressive marijuana legalization bill in the U.S.  Given New York’s appalling history with racially biased marijuana enforcement, we must be bold and innovative in creating justice and equity. We want to see a policy that is responsive to the lives of New Yorkers, not solely business interests.  Legalization can be an economic engine driving wealth and equity in marginalized communities and providing space for alternative economic systems—if we work intentionally.”

The Governor’s proposal would:
•    Reduce impacts of criminalization affecting communities of color.
•    Automatically seal certain cannabis-related criminal records.
•    Implement quality control and consumer protections to safeguard public health.
•    Allow counties and large cities to opt out.
•    Restrict marijuana access to anyone under 21.
•    Generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs.

Advocates are awaiting the full bill text. In the meantime, the Start SMART coalition calls for these provisions in any legalization initiative:
•    Making revenue available for efforts that will invest in communities harmed by the war on drugs and mass incarceration through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
•    Banning vertical integration to provide the maximum amount of space for new companies to develop and contribute to a New York–focused market.
•    Establishing a licensing structure designed to create a favorable environment for small businesses and family-scale farmers, which creates space for entrepreneurial efforts to be launched in small towns and rural areas, as well as disproportionately impacted communities across the state.
•    Including a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
•    Establishing a small business incubator program to provide direct support to small-scale operators who are marijuana license holders in the form of legal counseling services, education, small business coaching, compliance assistance, and funding in the form of grants or low- or zero-interest loans.

Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities, convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition.


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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