New York: This is not a Green Rush, This is a Justice Rush

Roc NORML was in the news earlier this week talking about what consumers and activists want to see included in the legislation currently being drafted to frame New York’s adult-use cannabis market. The legislation is being drafted by a work group, put together by Governor Cuomo, and we’re anticipating a first draft of the legislation will be introduced during the state of the state in January with the executive budget.

So, what does this mean exactly? This means we are also anticipating the legislation will be on the trajectory to pass with the 2019 Budget Bill in April, with Article VII from the NYS constitution. It is not a matter of if, or even when, but a matter of what this legislation is going to look like and who it is going to benefit most.

The article says: “The lawmakers working on writing the legislation that will be used as a framework for the program tell News10NBC they’d like to just “copy and paste” what the state of Nevada has done.

“Nevada has definitely benefited from the implementation in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California,” says Senator Diane Savino.  

Here’s what copying Nevada’s laws would mean for New York:

  • Legal recreational use for anyone over the age of 21.
  • Sales of one ounce per day.
  • No public consumption or usage while driving or in a vehicle.
  • Employers can still drug test and landlords can still prohibit usage while inside their dwellings.  

When it comes to the business side of things, Senator Savino says she likes that Nevada started by offering recreational licenses to those who already have medical dispensaries.” Based on that statement, it would stand to reason that a holder of a medical marijuana license in New York has a vested interest in seeing a bill that gives all adult use license to medical marijuana license holders come to fruition.

California based MedMen, Inc., one of the ten medical marijuana license holders in New York, was one of Senator Savino’s largest campaign contributors in 2018, donating $10,300 to her reelection campaign and has donated $20,600 to Senator Savino in total. It should also be noted that MedMen, Inc. has recently been sued in California for failing to “pay employees minimum wages for off-the-clock work, pay employees for the full amount of hours worked, including overtime, provide all mandatory meal and rest breaks, and keep accurate records of employee hours worked.”

A New York resident might wonder why a California based company that does not operate a single licensed facility within the district of Senator Savino (who is also vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee) would be her second largest donor (Senator Savino’s largest donor is her own Diane J. Savino Campaign Committee). Moreover, why is Senator Savino listening to a company, accused of committing multiple wage and hour law violations, over the repeated statements of her own constituents and the Governor’s and Assembly’s statewide listening sessions who seek to ensure big businesses, especially those who are owned from outside of New York, do not create an oligopolistic market that shuts out locally owned small and medium sized businesses.

Also quoted in the article, Mary Kruger, Executive Director of Roc NORML, said “We’re spending a lot of money on the black market right now and none of it is going back into the community,” regarding developing a Community Reinvestment Grant with tax money generated from an adult-use market in NY. And while some money from the illicit market is staying in communities, a majority of it is not, and the legislation must invest tax dollars into communities that have been directly targeted and harmed by the War on Drugs.

While Nevada certainly has aspects that we can model after, Roc NORML, other activists organizations around the state, and allies in both the Senate and Assembly are in no way, shape, or form advocating to “copy and paste the Nevada model.”

Assembly Members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger sponsored the MRTA (Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act), companion legislation in the Assembly and Senate, introduced in 2017 to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult-use in NY. These Assembly members held listening sessions around NYS on this topic earlier this year, one of which Roc NORML was invited to speak at, are not in support of allowing the current medical license holders first dibs at the licenses. Nevada is currently in the middle of a costly lawsuit because of the way their licenses were distributed, has extremely restrictive home cultivation laws, which exclude almost all residents from being eligible for home cultivation, and doesn’t allow for on-site or public consumption; these are jusst some of the most important reasons why we urge NYS not to follow the Nevada model.

As a consumer advocacy organization, alongside with other advocacy organizations around the state and allies in the Senate and Assembly, we firmly believe this legislation set to pass in April must include the following, non-negotiable points:

  • Restorative and reparative justice, which includes: proactively seal and expunge all low-level marijuana related offenses, at no cost to the victim; strategically promote diversity and equity within the industry, focused on the small business model and only allowing vertical integration licenses within micro-businesses; develop a Community Reinvestment Grants fund as a revenue source for new community based programs for communities that have been directly targeted and most harmed during the War on Drugs, created using 50% of the tax money generated from the adult-use market
  • Home Cultivation with Collective Gardening: allow home cultivation for 6 plants in flower, per individual, with provisions that allow collective gardening centers, promoting “incubators” or hubs where folks can go if they aren’t able to cultivate in their own home
  • On-Site Consumption: allow for businesses to obtain on-site consumption licenses, similar to how liquor licenses are distributed, giving the public a safe, legal, and social place to consume; excluding this from the law is unjust to consumers and medical patients who aren’t able to legally consume in their home

All of these points, and more, were discussed in depth at the Marijuana Justice, Equity, Reinvestment conference earlier this week in Albany, hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, which both Roc NORML Board of Directors and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes were in attendance. These points were echoed by advocates, activists, and industry professionals from around the country during the conference, calling for the urgency to keep Justice, Equity, and Reinvestment at the forefront of this legislation.

Feedback has been gathered from New Yorkers around the state through the Assembly hearings, as well as 17 listening sessions facilitated by the Governor. The feedback from New Yorkers across the state has not echoed the call to “copy and paste the Nevada model”, as Senator Savino has suggested we do. Instead, the call to action from New Yorkers has been to develop a model that is justice based and consumer focused, neither of which the Nevada model offers.

Governor Cuomo has stated more than once that New York has waited to legalize cannabis for adult-use so we can learn from other states, and set the standard for other states around the country. This is our chance to do so and we need to learn from where other states have fallen short and make it better, not just “copy and paste” a flawed model.

Take action now by going to and:

  1. Take the survey on our homepage, conducted by NYS on cannabis consumption, to inform the legislation currently being written
  2. Under the Events section, RSVP for our statewide lobby day on March 27th, in partnership with Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations from around the state, to advocate for cannabis consumer rights in Albany
  3. Join our mailing list to stay updated on local cannabis news, events, hearings, and become a member of Roc NORML