While New York’s adult use cannabis market won’t be live for another year or so, and its rules and regulations have yet to be crafted, aspiring cannabis business owners need to prepare now.
This was the message of a virtual event in late April hosted by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, during which Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, co-sponsor of the adult use legalization bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in late March, spoke to the economic opportunity that cannabis can bring to upstate New Yorkers and communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws.
Rochester, which counts just over 200,000 residents, is the third-most populous city in the state of New York, following New York City and Buffalo, which Peoples-Stokes represents. Warren opened by expressing excitement at the “unique opportunity for the state of New York” that the cannabis industry will bring. She said that she’s invited people like Peoples-Stokes and officials with cannabis experience from Denver to share information as New York’s cannabis industry takes shape.
“We often talk about what we want to do with the dollars that we receive, the tax dollars, and invest in neighborhoods and invest in communities. But a major part of this legislation was actually helping people get into the business by starting up their own dispensaries or even growing cannabis and other things,” Warren said, adding that she asked Peoples-Stokes to speak about how cannabis is not just going to “empower our communities, but also give people an opportunity to build wealth in their family.”
Peoples-Stokes agreed and said that New Yorkers need to do work now, ahead of pending cannabis regulations, “to be ready to take advantage” of potential opportunities.
“It’s not going to be just given to you, because nobody is going to be successful in a business that’s just given to them. You have to put something in and get something out. So I’m just suggesting that people start putting something in now and get themselves ready, get your business plan together,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Much of the event was focused on questions from Rochester residents, which covered everything from possession limits to the cost of opening a dispensary.
“I just want to be able to, as Mayor, position our citizens as best as possible,” Warren said, “Especially those people that are opening up small businesses, micro businesses, mom and pop shops.”
Peoples-Stokes said that since lawmakers passed the legalization bill, “it has literally consumed my life,” because she’s traveled throughout the state of New York and to other states to talk about cannabis legalization and how New York lawmakers went about it with a focus on equity.
“What we did in New York State with passing legalization is a lot different than other states have done, majorly different, because we started from a framework of equity and fairness first and then access to revenue for the government,” Peoples-Stokes said.
New York’s version of legalization differs from other states in, for example, its goal to issue 50% of licenses to equity applicants, which include women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses, as well as “distressed farmers” and “legacy” operators who have been working in the illegal market.
Peoples-Stokes spoke about the automatic expungement of cannabis-related crimes, and also the spaces where public cannabis consumption will be allowed. New York City has the country’s largest public housing program, with more than half a million New Yorkers, and cannabis remains prohibited because federal funds are involved. Public consumption lounges provide a safe and legal space for New Yorkers “because a lot of people live in places, particularly public housing, and even in some apartment units where you’re not able to smoke anywhere,” Peoples-Stokes said.
One issue that comes up frequently in legalization conversations is workplace impairment and what employers can and can’t do related to cannabis testing.
“An employer cannot say what you can and cannot do on your off time. They don’t tell you how many martinis to have. They can’t tell you whether or not you can use cannabis. What they can say is you can’t come to work impaired,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Home cultivation, too, is often a hot topic, which New York’s adult use law will allow. Peoples-Stokes said that the home cultivation provision was “something that was really big, particularly for upstaters. People wanted to have the ability to grow, and grow six plants, three mature and three immature, and be completely within the realm of the law.”
The rest of the Rochester event focused on questions flowing from residents. Peoples-Stokes reiterated that rules and regulations are coming, so residents should stay tuned and learn as much as possible now.
The Majority Leader encouraged people in ancillary industries to consider cannabis, too.
“There are all kinds of opportunities around this new industry that have nothing to do with touching a plant. So, if you are a lawyer, wrap your skills around becoming a legal advisor to people who want to be in the marijuana business. If you are an accountant, wrap your skills around that,” Peoples-Stokes said. “If you’re a credit union and you’re not federally insured, then wrap your messaging around an opportunity for people to invest their resources into your credit union.”
One question was related to whether grants would be available to equity applicants to help them get their applications over the finish line and businesses off the ground. Peoples-Stokes said, yes, grants will be available, and a soon-to-be-formed advisory board will be “making sure that people who need access to resources can get access to resources.”
Both Mayor Warren and Peoples-Stokes talked about their fears that equity applicants would be overshadowed, or even trampled, by big businesses.
“People are very concerned about this because we do live in a capitalistic society. At the end of the day, probably most of this industry is going to be controlled by Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco,” Peoples-Stokes said.
Peoples-Stokes closed by talking about the stronghold that New York’s existing medical cannabis industry tried to establish.
“For at least the last four years, the existing Registered Organizations that have the dispensaries for medical marijuana have been aggressively seeking more dispensaries. Why do they want more dispensaries for medical marijuana?” Peoples-Stokes asked. “They wanted more dispensaries so that when the adult use comes, they already control the market. We literally had to fight it off for four years because we don’t want anyone controlling the market before the 50% equity opportunities for people who want to be in business.”