[Editor's Note: Since publication, New York State has legalized recreational marijuana, opening the doors for a flood of adjacent industries, and embracing some of the most progressive criminal justice reforms associated with the legalization movement.]
On February 18, Chronogram Media teamed up with Etain to host "Legal Weed is Coming," a virtual event with a diverse panel of policy influencers, growers, and dispensary owners. The event, held on Zoom, brought together over 150 audience members for a lively discussion on what legalization of recreational marijuana might look like in New York and the possibility of legislation becoming law this spring. Panelists included Hillary Peckham, COO of Etain; Meg Sanders, CEO of Canna Provisions; Marcus Williams, vice president of Community Growth Partners at Rebelle; Melissa Moore, New York State director of Drug Policy Alliance (pictured above); Andi Novick, president of Small Farma Ltd.; and Gail Hepworth, CEO of Hempire State Growers.
Peckham kicked off the discussion, explaining how Etain obtained one of the first licenses for medical marijuana in the state and is the only women-owned and family-owned dispensary in New York. Peckham went on to explain the process for getting a medical marijuana card (it's not hard) and also added some suggestions for what potential legalization could look like.
One of the hot topics of conversation was the tax revenue generated from marijuana dispensaries. Sanders stated that three percent of the revenue from Canna Provisions' Lee, Massachusetts, dispensary went directly to the town—which totaled over $1 million in 2020. She clarified this was in addition to sales tax and other revenue that is allocated to the town through the regulations in place. Sanders went on to note: "As a result, Lee didn't have to raise property taxes this year—in a COVID year."
Adding to this, Williams explained that Rebelle's Great Barrington dispensary opened in September. Williams feels that municipalities were sensible with regard to tax revenues, explaining that dispensaries in Massachusetts are required to obtain a host community agreement from the town before they can open.
The conversation shifted to legislation currently on the table for New York State. Moore of the Drug Policy Alliance explained that there are two bills currently in the legislature for consideration: the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) and Governor Cuomo's proposal.
Moore went on to say that there are very important differences between these two pieces of legislation: Cuomo's bill did not include a license option for delivery, permit onsite consumption; and, in many cases, it escalates criminal penalties beyond what they have been.
Elaborating on the difference between the two bills currently in the legislature, Small Farma's Novick says, "The governor has said that this is a $3 billion industry. If we were to give that industry to farms—small farms, micro farms, people who want to grow this plant consciously outdoors, regeneratively—that $3 billion would stay in New York State. But instead that $3 billion is going to go the way of profits, often to multi-state operators from out of state"—which could result in less money for New York and a missed opportunity for small farmers.
Also discussed was the impact legal recreational marijuana has on economic development and job creation. Hepworth of Hempire State Growers voiced her support for the MRTA, adding that her business has 25 professional people on staff including an attorney, biomedical engineers, industrial engineers, and more—in addition to 100 skilled farmworkers. "When farms do well, communities thrive," Hepworth says.
To view our full conversation on legal weed coming to New York State, check out our video on Chronogram.com/legal-weed and stay tuned for another conversation on legal weed coming soon.