On Juneteenth Eve, New Yorkers Rally to Protect Historic Marijuana Law & Oppose Corporate Takeover

Press Release June 18, 2024
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Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, brings together advocates and community members in a huddle at the rally.

New York, N.Y. – Elected officials, community advocates, social justice organizations, and individuals directly impacted by the failed War on Drugs – including those with social equity licenses –  rallied today outside Governor Hochul’s Manhattan office to defend the landmark Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). Passed in 2021, the MRTA is the most progressive cannabis legalization law in the nation, prioritizing social equity and reinvestment in communities harmed by decades of marijuana criminalization.

The vision of social equity and restitution for New York’s decades-long marijuana arrest crusade in the MRTA is becoming reality: More than 90% of the current adult-use dispensary retail businesses are owned by someone impacted by the war on drugs or a nonprofit that serves an impacted population (Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or CAURD, licensees).

However, Governor Hochul and corporate interests are now attempting to undermine the MRTA by falsely blaming the law itself for the proliferation of unlicensed cannabis shops instead of doing more earlier to provide the OCM with resources for enforcement. Now The City has revealed that the Hochul administration ignored agency expertise and moved ahead with a predatory lending deal that exploited Black and Brown cannabis licencees, kept the Legislature in the dark, and then blamed the former Office of Cannabis Management for the program’s troubled rollout.

Simultaneously, big cannabis corporations, particularly Multi-State Operators, are actively lobbying to dismantle the guardrails meant to protect the MRTA’s equity provisions so they can monopolize New York’s lucrative market. The attacks on social equity come as sales are rapidly increasing in New York’s cannabis market, with Weedmaps reporting state consumers outspending the national average by over 50%.

The Governor’s rhetoric and recent actions against senior leadership at OCM belie the outstanding achievements of marijuana justice in New York – which has not fallen prey to the corporate monopoly cannabis markets in other states. Since its inception, New York’s adult-use cannabis market, shaped by the MRTA, has forged a new path and shattered national records:

The MRTA also expunged the arrest records of over 400,000 New Yorkers for low-level, racially enforced arrests, while directing tax revenue towards public schools, drug treatment, and communities most harmed by prohibition.

The coalition of advocates seeks to:

“The social equity component of the MRTA is absolutely essential for our communities in Brooklyn and Queens. 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,” said Senator Julia Salazar (WFP/D, District 18).

“New York’s cannabis law is a national model, designed to repair the catastrophic harms of the War on Drugs. In just 15 months, our state has nearly tripled the number of Black-owned dispensaries nationwide, with 95% of the market comprised of small businesses. Yet this hard-won progress is under direct attack from well-funded lobbyists and large corporations influencing the Hochul administration. We stand united to defend the MRTA’s equity provisions, crush corporate control, and demand the law is enforced without compromising its justice-aligned mission,” said Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

“VOCAL-NY and DPA have been fighting this fight for 15 years. Many people have been locked up over the years. We don’t need corporations coming into our communities — there should be assistance and opportunities for entrepreneurship for those who have been locked up for marijuana. This is our city, our state, and these should be our opportunities,” said Hiawatha Collins, Leader and Board Member with VOCAL-NY.

“What is fair and equitable about providing one group with all the tools, funding, and media support they need to dominate, while giving another group absolutely nothing? True fairness would mean matching ever dollar spent on one group with equal investment in the otherAudit DASNY and the state’s fund and demand a dollar-for-dollar match – that’s what real social equity looks like!” said Sohan Bashur, CAURD licensee and owner of Silk Road NYC.

“My family believed in me and in this government to do what it promised and invest in its restorative justice approach to legalization. I have to tell them that the advice of lobbyists and powerful special interests means more to Governor Hochul than the people who elected her – the people she pledged to help, the people who were most harmed by the War on Drugs,” said Jessica Naissant, CEO of Wake and Bake Cafe, LLC.

“For months we have been ringing the alarm about the predatory forces that the Governor has invited into the cannabis equity space in New York. We cannot allow the State’s cannabis management to be turned over to those same forces. When we passed the MRTA, we promised to prioritize communities that were directly harmed by the war on drugs; instead, they are being further marginalized by a Governor who consistently puts politics ahead of people. We must fight to hold the State accountable to the promises that were made,” said Eli C. Northrup of The Bronx Cannabis Hub, The Bronx Defenders.

“The New York cannabis market is in its infant stages, not even two years old, but it has already achieved significant milestones, including hundreds of thousands of expungements, more than 50 percent of licensed businesses being owned by social equity applicants, and over $300 million in sales to date. It is on its way to $1 billion in revenue by the end of the year. By most measures, this market is a major success, despite sabotage efforts from well-capitalized corporations lobbying against the interests of local New York entrepreneurs and small businesses. Changing course now would be an epic slap in the face to the small businesses that trusted the state to keep its word to them,” said Jacobi Holland, On the Revel.

“There is a mythology rearing its ugly head yet again that Black and Brown people cannot effectively run business. Yet the tales that are not told are of the broken promises, blocked access and predatory lending that has historically befallen Black business in the United States.  New York State promised the best equity program in the country then at its worst, became the perpetuators of sharecropping against its participants. We were promised an industry steadfast in small business yet buckled under the persistent litigation and industry sabotage perpetuated by corporate cannabis to enter the industry en force. We, the people of New York who fought for the most equitable cannabis law in the country will no longer stand for this misrepresentation. We stand with the people of New York and remind Governor Hochul of her promises!” said Saki Fenderson, co-founder Taintwd Love BK; Director of Events, On the Revel.

“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 disproportionally 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.

“Progressive Social Equity Policy is an evolution, and the cornerstone is being committed to continuous improvement.  Every implementation is a catalyst for the next, and it is important to remember that it takes a rough draft to create a masterpiece.  We have to give policy change an opportunity to be impactful and for that impact to be measured. The MRTA is centered around creating an equitable cannabis industry for New York while repairing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” said Scheril Murray Powell, Esq., Cannabis Attorney, Activist, and Sacramental Use Advocate.



About the Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.

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

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