New York state is offering the first 150 licenses for the legal sale of weed to people – and their relatives – who have been previously convicted of dealing or selling the drug.
The policy, implemented by the state’s Democratic leaders, seeks to compensate African-American and Hispanic communities whose members were disproportionately arrested and convicted during the time weed was illegal.
The state legalized recreational weed for residents aged 21 and over in March 2021. Anyone previously convicted of possessing marijuana was also eligible for resentencing under the new law.
Legal marijuana sales are estimated to result in $1.3 billion in sales and provide up to 24,000 more jobs in the state.
Meanwhile, the Big Apple is cracking down on illegal marijuana sales. Mayor Eric Adams announced last week that 600 pounds of weed – worth about $4 million – had been confiscated in the past two weeks.
New York is offering previously convicted cannabis dealers and sellers first dibs on business license to legally sell the drug after it became legal in 2021. Pictured: Visitors at a legal cannabis store in the Bronx, New York City, on December 9, 2022
Democratic leaders argued that African-American and Hispanic communities need to be compensated after decades or ‘disproportionate’ arrests, Visitors learned how to apply for a legal cannabis license during an event in the Bronx on December 9, 2022
Naiomy Guerrero’s brother was stopped by police often and was once convicted on drug charges when marijuana was illegal in New York.
Now, she is setting up a legal cannabis business, a promising new market fraught with pitfalls.
‘It’s such an exciting moment for my family,’ said 31-year-old Guerrero, a PhD art history student whose parents are from the Dominican Republic.
‘Especially given where we come from and everything we have been through, with the discriminatory policies that the city has had, like stop and frisk,’ she told AFP.
As well as the cannabis conviction, applicants must also own a profitable business to be eligible for one of the first 150 licenses, which will precede a full opening of the market.
Last month, Guerrero was one of the first 28 successful applicants who received their license to open an official store and sell locally-grown cannabis.
Jeremy Rivera, is another New Yorker looking to profit. He was convicted of a ‘non-violent drug offense including cannabis’ in 2016. He was released from prison in 2018 and has vowed never to go back.
The 36-year-old wants to put his knowledge of cannabis and business acumen to use by opening a weed shop east of the city on Long Island.
Jeremy Rivera spent several years in prison for cannabis-related offenses and wants to sell cannabis legally through New York state’s new program
The state legalized marijuana last year to anyone aged 21 and over in 2021, and made those convicted of weed possession eligible for resentencing. Pictured: a demonstrator at the NYC Cannabis Parade in May 2021
In 2018, a state report estimated that there had been 800,000 arrests for marijuana possession in the previous 20 years. In 2017, most of those arrested were Black, 48 percent, while Hispanics made up 38 percent of arrests.
‘Prohibition denied people opportunities, it caused divestment in communities, it broke up families,’ said Tremaine Wright, chairwoman of the control board for New York’s Office of Cannabis Management.
Guerrero said that in the 2000s, the New York Police Department’s infamous stop-and-frisk policy, which disproportionately targeted people of color, meant ‘we couldn’t be outside without getting picked up by the police.
‘It was just living in a constant, constant state of surveillance and harassment,’ she recalled.
While the cannabis program is ambitious, experts say implementation will have its challenges.
‘We’re still at the very beginning of our journey of social equity. We need education, we need funding,’ said Desmon Lewis, co-founder of The Bronx Community Foundation, which is assisting applicants.
Tremaine Wright, chairwoman of the control board for New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, said ‘prohibition denied people opportunities’
Last week, local media outlet NY Cannabis Insider reported that the team tasked with raising $150 million from private investors for the state’s $200 million fund to support retailers had missed a key deadline set by the state.
That raises concerns that candidates may not receive the ready-made stores they had been promised.
‘For some people, it is very confusing. They are relying on this location and these funds. Now it’s like the sand is shifting below their feet’, said Eli Northrup of the Bronx Defenders non-profit.
Also causing concern is strong competition from unlicensed sellers, who have been emboldened by decriminalization.
They have taken advantage of the lack of controls since legalization, selling on the street, in parks, as well as in smoke shops that are already selling THC edibles, pre-rolls, and flowers.
But Rivera sees only opportunities.
‘You’re also going to have people who never felt comfortable purchasing from the illicit market that are now going to want to purchase from a reputable licensed provider,’ he said.
‘This is the beginning of the next 100 years of cannabis sales,’ he added, taking a puff on a long joint.
Law enforcement officers have been tackling the illegal sale of weed
In the past two weeks, more than 600 pounds of illegal marijuana – about $4 million worth – was collected by New York City law enforcement officers, according to the NY Daily News.
Mayor Eric Adams announced the city-wide crackdown on illegal weed sales last week.
Along with the weed confiscation, 500 civil summonses and 66 criminal summonses were distributed to dealers.
Adams said the illicit weed packaging was ‘alarming’ because it appealed to children because of its bright packaging and gummy textured appeal.
‘We will not let economic opportunities that legal cannabis offers be taken for a ride by unlicensed establishments,’ Adams said. ‘It’s high time that unlicensed stores stopped selling illegal products and comply with the laws.’
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