January 1, 2019 By: Michael Greene
NEW YORK CITY MAYOR DE BLASIO CALLS FOR FAIR CANNABIS LEGALIZATION THAT PROMOTES EQUITY AND OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL
The Mayor’s office task force report seeks to promote small business development, redress impacts of past criminalization and drive economic opportunity to historically marginalized communities.
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill De Blasio on December 20, 2018, issued a press release which endorsed the safe and fair legalization of cannabis in New York. The Mayor also released his Task Force report on Cannabis Legalization, which calls for a strong, public health-focused regulatory framework and the empowerment of local government to prevent corporate greed, foster small businesses and meet the demands of New York City communities. The report also places great emphasis on the need to ensure that any marijuana industry in New York City right the wrongs of the past and promotes economic opportunity. “I have been convinced that we can establish a regulatory framework that keeps our streets safe, rights the wrongs of the past, and gives economic opportunity to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I support legalization because we’ve developed a path forward that will help make our City fairer. I look forward to working with the State as to make this a reality.”
“As we go down the path toward legalization of marijuana in our city and state, let us recognize that it is not without risks,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts. “We must do everything we can to protect our city’s young people, and educate all New Yorkers about marijuana use. That’s why this report is so important, and I urge state lawmakers use the recommendations as a guide for their work in the months ahead.”
“I have long supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, and I am looking forward to reviewing these recommendations. Although whites, blacks and Latinos smoke marijuana at roughly the same rates, minorities have been arrested disproportionately for low-level marijuana possession. We have a responsibility to undo these past wrongs. As New York looks to move forward with decriminalizing marijuana, we must ensure that part of the conversation includes expunging convictions of people with low-level possession offenses,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The report, A Fair Approach to Marijuana, was produced by the Mayor’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, which was convened in July 2018 to identify the goals and challenges that should guide the City’s preparations for potential legalization. The recommendations are centered on local development, equity, public health and a wholesale departure from the failed war on drugs. These include the automatic expungement of criminal records for conduct that would be legalized – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases; educational resources for youth, educators, consumers, health care workers; the elimination of routine testing as prerequisite to social service benefit eligibility and the prohibition of pre-employment and random testing, with some narrow exceptions. It also calls for balancing State regulatory structures with local authority to permit licensed consumption sites, determine business density restrictions to avoid over-concentration and allow localities to restrict or prohibit home cultivation. The report also makes recommendations to prevent big business from market domination by instituting a licensing system that would create opportunities for small businesses. If legalized, the City would seek to:
- Establish an Equitable Licensing System: Create local licensing programs, regulate public places of consumption, regulate home and commercial cultivation and manufacturing, and regulate home delivery services.
- Preserve Communities: Establish zoning and area restrictions for cannabis businesses, as well as restrictions on the density to determine how the location of cannabis businesses can best fit into the fabric of its communities.
- Protect Public Health: Enforce age limits of 21 and over with civil rather than criminal penalties to violations of cannabis regulations to the greatest extent possible consistent with public safety.
- Right Historic Wrongs: Recommend automatic expungement of criminal records relating to conduct that may be legalized, including personal use and possession of certain quantities – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases.
- Ensure Product Safety: Recommend statewide standards for product safety, labeling and packaging, marketing, and advertising, as well as a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system accessible to State and local regulators and financial institutions serving cannabis-related businesses.
- Put Small Businesses First: Work with State authorities to reduce the risk of market domination by big businesses and foster sustainable growth, in part, by restricting businesses from owning and controlling each stage of the supply chain, which may otherwise be owned by different, specialized businesses.
- Create Equal Opportunity: Participate in a dual state-local licensing structure that will permit the City to pursue its own innovations to promote economic opportunities created by this new market, subject to the minimum standards set by the State.
- Ease Access to Capital: Advocate for legislation expressly providing that banking and professional services for cannabis-related businesses do not violate State law.
- Make Fair Investments: Allocate tax revenue, licensing fees, and other sources of financing to administer the new industry and support cannabis businesses and workers, with a focus on target populations and community reinvestment.
- Build Local Businesses: Develop an incubator program to provide direct support to equity applicants in the form of counseling services, education, small businesses coaching, and compliance assistance.
The above recommendations would follow a series of steps by the Administration that have successfully reduced arrests for marijuana in New York City. The Task Force was coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and includes representatives of relevant City agencies. The Task Force was divided into five subcommittees –focused on Licensing and Land Use; Economic Opportunity; Taxation and Finance; Law Enforcement and Social Justice; and Public Health, Social Services and Education – that met regularly to develop the recommendations reflected in the Task Force report. Members consulted with experts both supportive and opposed to legalization and studied jurisdictions that have regulated the adult use of cannabis.