How To Operationalize Justice As We Legalize Cannabis in New York State
I am a Black NewYorker, with African and Lenape indigenous ancestry. I am an herbalist and carbon farmer working on the frontlines of climate change. My relatives have been criminalized and incarcerated for cannabis related offenses. And I cultivate CBD hemp cannabis as a tool for grassroots movement building with the hope of creating an inclusive and equitable cannabis industry.
Governor Cuomo’s proposed bill for the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act is currently under review. New York State is estimated to have the nations largest adult-use cannabis market, a multi billion dollar industry.
Cannabis is a fascinating plant with at least 113 different cannabinoids, a wide range of therapeutic essential oils called terpenes, and dozens of benefits and uses, from sustainable building to salad greens. Cannabis also presents a unique opportunity for multiple justice movements to converge: environmental, social and economic. And let there be justice for her too. She has been trapped indoors under artificial lights for many decades now. Let her bathe in real sunlight and rich soil. Let her breathe fresh air again.
The Governors 2020 bill ideates some progressive programs, an Incubator Program and Social Equity Loan. The Incubator Program will be established to support ‘disadvantaged farmers’ as well as minority-owned, women-owned, and women of color owned businesses. Low-interest or zero-interest Social Equity Loans will be available for qualified applicants. Priority will be given to members of community groups that have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition. And so, opportunity is soon approaching for low-wealth African Americans and Latinos. The bill proposes to favor applicants who make less than 80% of the median household income of the county in which they reside. Applicants convicted of a cannabis related offense prior to the effective date of the bill will be favored
Overall, I think the drafted legislation is a start toward its proclaimed goal of implementing justice in New York State. The devil lives in the details though. Currently the only proposal to fund these programs is to host a “competitive bidding auction” for medical marijuana companies already established in New York State who wish to cross over into the “adult-use” cannabis market for increased profits. The medical companies are already four years into business and fully capitalized. By giving them retail licenses for adult use cannabis, they would have immediate “vertical integration”, as cultivators, processors and now retailers. This is a privilege clearly prohibited for small businesses in the proposed legislation. Unless the “Equity” programs are clearly funded and established immediately, there will not be adequate time for small farmers and equity entrepreneurs to enter the market at the same time as big business. Starting a year or two behind the market is no way to actualize justice. Our state officials need to find the money now. Our communities have already paid for justice in the form of taxes, court fees and jail time. Our tax dollars paid for ‘DARE’ and ‘Just Say No’. Find the money to fund the Incubator Program and Social Equity Grants instead of loans. Equity Applicants and Small Farmers need privileged market timing, a gestational period to get established as craft cannabis cultivators, processes, distributors and retailers before big business are allowed in to dominate the industry. A truly just legislative design would protect the small players even after big business enter the marketplace. We need a justice program that is as systemic and inherent as the blatant oppression our communities have faced for the past fifty years of disproportionate incarceration under cannabis prohibition. If we are indeed attempting to repair the harms of the war on drugs by making this wildly lucrative industry inclusive, then Governor Cuomo and our state legislators must understand that Affirmative Access means tipping the scales in our favor.
Large, out-of-state corporations are well positioned to dominate New Yorks cannabis marketplace. The current bill places no limitations on the large players. We should limit them in number, size and the amount of cannabis they can supply. Otherwise, small farmers and business owners will struggle to compete with multi-million dollar corporations.
So, how do we operationalize justice as we legalize cannabis in New York State?
We streamline and protect our own just supply chain. My definition of an economically, ecologically and socially just supply chain starts from the ground up with land justice, soil, seeds, and the practice of regenerative carbon farming. Redistribute wealth by funding and establishing a social justice designed craft cannabis industry before allowing any big out of state players in. The long term result will be a stronger internal economy that will position New York as a leader in the long run once cannabis is legalized federally.