New York Marijuana Coalition Demands 'Course Correction' from Governor

The group lamented that current policies have boosted the illicit market.

A small but vocal group of activists representing a loose coalition of marijuana companies and community activists – including the mother of Eric Garner – held a rally Wednesday outside the Manhattan office of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, chanting “Open up the program!” and demanding the state move quicker on issuing more cannabis business permits.

The Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis (CARSC), a group that was just formed in March and which has a pending lawsuit against the state that asks a judge to order regulators open marijuana business licensing immediately to all, organized the rally. The next hearing for that lawsuit is Aug. 4 in the Albany County Supreme Court.

Among the coalition members are various stakeholders that stand to gain directly if Hochul were to direct the Office of Cannabis Management to speed up the licensing process and broaden it to more applicants, said Rev. Kirsten John Foy, a spokesman for the coalition.

Members include several registered organizations that are licensed to sell medical marijuana in New York, such as Acreage Holdings, Curaleaf, Green Thumb Industries, and PharmaCann, but Foy said he was also speaking on behalf of farmers, social equity retailers, and other stakeholders who are also frustrated with the market rollout.

A panel truck providing data on how much tax revenue New York has missed out on.
A panel truck at the CARSC rally in New York on June 28 highlighting how much revenue the state is missing out on. / Photo courtesy of CARSC

To date, there are only 13 operational adult-use marijuana shops in New York, compared to an estimated 1,500 unlicensed storefront sellers in New York City alone.

“We’re here representing various constituencies in the cannabis industry, who have all expressed discontent, who are all discouraged at what they have seen coming out of OCM, and who are all dismayed at what the future holds for the cannabis industry,” Foy said, adding that he was speaking for social equity retail licensees and applicants who were afraid to speak publicly for fear of retribution.

“We’re here to say, the governor must step in and provide leadership, at an agency that has taken a wrong turn, and it’s time for a course correction,” Foy said, blasting the Hochul administration for not cracking down sooner and harder than it has on unlicensed smoke shops selling cannabis.

“We have seen, regrettably, over the course of the last couple of years, one misstep after another, in pursuit of some ideological framing that pits one community against another in a once-in-a-generation opportunity, at the birth of an industry,” Foy railed. “Communities of color, who have been long impacted and affected by the war on drugs, are now being categorized and separated and divided by regulators who are not operating in the spirit or by the letter of the law.”

Hochul’s administration recently launched a new crackdown against businesses selling marijuana without the proper permits, but Foy said authorities are still moving too slowly and need to begin awarding permits immediately for both recreational and medical marijuana companies.

Foy also lampooned the market structure, which was intended to prioritize “justice-involved” individuals and nonprofits in an attempt to repair harms wrought by the war on drugs. Instead, regulators have only succeeded in dividing minority communities even further.

“What they have done is allowed the illicit market to explode, and to gentrify, by the way,” Foy said. “Because the brothers and the sisters who were selling it on the street before have been pushed out by these illegal smoke shops that are popping up everywhere. So they’ve even allowed a birfucation of the illicit market.”

Foy added that he’s worked personally with victims of the war on drugs who don’t qualify for licensure under the OCM’s rules.

“It doesn’t matter whether your family or you have been personally impacted by the war on drugs,” Foy said. “If you didn’t check this box and this box, you don’t qualify. Doesn’t matter if your loved one was killed as a result of state-sanctioned violence, because of the war on drugs. You don’t fit this box or that box, step to the side.”

The rally was held in front of a digital sign that displayed projected state cannabis tax revenues and a state deficit of $365 million by 2028 if New York continues as is, according to CARSC estimates.

Social justice activist Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, also spoke at the rally and said it’s hard to see how or where the state is reinvesting cannabis tax money back into the communities affected by the war on drugs.

“It was not supposed to be like this,” Carr said. “Where is our money that’s going back into the community? We don’t see it. … Stand with us so that we can convince them to open up the program. Say, ‘Open up the program.’”

A spokesman for Hochul’s office referred Green Market Report back to comments the governor made during an event last week, when she pledged that her “number one objective was to get it right and to make sure we do it in an equitable way.”

“Sometimes it takes a while to get it right, and the process has not been easy. It’s not been easy,” Hochul said. “It’s not on the pace we would want to see. But sometimes the things worth doing are not on an easy path. And to ensure that we have a thriving and equitable cannabis industry here, we want to make sure we do everything possible to just make it a lot easier. It’s been a tough haul.”

John Schroyer

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