Cannabis Legalization in NY - Why it Really Matters

By Beryl Solomon, Poplar Co-Founder & CEO

First, I want to say, I am staring at the printed and bound 151-page bill that legalized Cannabis in New York this past week. The document is sitting on “my desk” aka my coffee table and I intend to read each and every word of the legislation - and you should hold anyone who wants to be in the NY Weed Biz accountable for at least that :)    

Secondly, I am super stoked that the bill passed. Since 2018, I have focused on doing all that I can to usher in a new cannabis dawn in NY for two reasons.  

  1.  In 2017, I added cannabis to my health and wellness routine and decreased my pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication.  It was a game changer.  So, naturally I developed a vested interest in making it easier and safer to purchase and consume cannabis in NY. 
  2. As I began to navigate the cannabis landscape, I learned the war on drugs was racist and unfortunately those racist policies have continued to manifest themselves disproportionately decimating communities of color.  And let’s just get this out there - yes, it’s f*cked up that I didn’t realize the racist origins of the War on Drugs sooner. Lesson learned. 

So - since I haven’t read the bill in its entirety yet, I am not yet going to drop knowledge on the “ins and outs” of the legislation - more to come on that later... Instead, more urgently, I want to take a minute to share why NY legalization matters and should matter to everyone - even if you're not particularly pro-pot. 


#1 - NY legalization proves that NY and the entrepreneurial dream is not dead

Despite what the news may be portraying during this trying time across the world, NY is alive and we are still the trend-setting capital of the world.  While we are the 15th State to legalize, it took time for good reason.  New York will most likely be the largest and most lucrative legal cannabis market to come online, experts estimate it could be as big as $3B year one. So, we knew we needed to do it “right” and, in this case, doing it “right” took time.  Now we have legislation that aims to grant 50% of all licenses to social equity businesses - hopefully demonstrating that cannabis can be an opportunity for all in the Empire State.  


#2 - Social Justice is more than a hashtag

While we listen to the shattering testimony of the George Floyd murder trial, we are witnessing (yet again) the broken systems around race and equality in this country. 

The War on Drugs and anti-cannabis policy is one such demonstration of inequity.  

“The U.S. government first painted cannabis as an insidious substance flowing across the border like immigrants from Mexico. Next, the government described cannabis as a drug for the inner city and for Blacks, while also lying about it, leading to murder, rape, and insanity. Next, political opponents of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan designed and enforced laws to target a variety of groups across America.

All along, one consistent target for the nation’s cannabis laws were communities of color. Despite cannabis usage rates between whites and non-whites being similar, Black Americans are arrested for cannabis offenses at a rate of nearly 4:1, compared to whites. And in a nation with nearly 700,000 cannabis-related arrests each year (a number that was over 800,000 a few years ago), these policies affect an enormous number of Americans.”*

But change is mandatory - and is coming.  Social justice matters.  Cannabis legalization stalled in New York UNTIL it included proper social equity measures!  Allyship is more than a black square, and real action demands real results.  

#3 - The Devil is in the Details 

Yep - what “they” say is true. There is currently a lot of commentary around the legislation. But the legislation leaves a lot to be determined. It calls for the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management which is ultimately responsible for regulating the industry.  So this is not over. We, cannabis patients, advocates, and enthusiasts need to continue to hold the system accountable for delivering upon the stated goal  - to have 50% of the licenses awarded to social equity applicants. 

So, at your next dinner party (god I hope dinner parties are a thing again soon), if NY cannabis legalization comes up, reference the above, or, use the below cheat sheet so you’re in the know. And, check out Poplar for all your modern drugstore needs - hopefully weed to come.   

  • It’s not Marijuana: It's Cannabis 
  • It’s not Recreational Cannabis: It’s Adult Use 
  • It’s not the Black Market: It’s Unregulated, Underground or Illicit 

*https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2020/06/23/marijuanas-racist-history-shows-the-need-for-comprehensive-drug-reform/