New York’s cannabis equity goals are ambitious.
When lawmakers passed a legalization bill last March, they did so with the goal that 50% of all licenses would be awarded to equity applicants. These applicants are from communities affected by disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws, or they’re businesses that have women or veteran owners, or they’re distressed farmers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in early January in her budget plan, a $200 million public-private equity fund to “promote equity and economic justice in New York’s cannabis industry.”
And last month, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes announced EquityPAC, which is focused on cannabis, education, and environmental equity.
Peoples-Stokes launched the EquityPAC, the first of its kind in New York, alongside U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs at a news conference at the Harlem Repertory Theatre in late February. One of the EquityPAC’s goals, they said, was to help create “pathways to generational wealth in the burgeoning cannabis industry.”
“Cannabis equity is the first step towards economic fairness,” Peoples-Stokes said during the event. “It is probably the first industry that we actually, as a people, have an opportunity to grow generational wealth in this country. And I think if we pass legislation and then don’t keep doing the work to make sure it’s implemented right, we could lose the opportunity.”
Gillibrand said that she was “proud to support her bold vision and to fight on the federal level to legalize cannabis and expunge non-violent convictions.”
Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire that since its launch, the EquityPAC is “getting a very good response,” including from people who were in the audience at the launch event. And while Peoples-Stokes has at least one candidate “in mind,” those suggestions have to go through the formal PAC board.
“I am excited. I think it’s heading in the right direction,” Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire. The PAC has so far raised $57,500, collected between August 2021 and January 2022, according to the January 2022 disclosure. Here’s who has contributed:
- Richard Ostroff, an Albany-area lobbyist, gave $15,000
- Friends of Crystal Peoples-Stokes gave $15,000. (In January, one of the group’s top backers was Rocco Termini, a real estate developer. His son, Brad, is building a “cannabis campus” in Buffalo.)
- Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, gave $5,000
- Erin Tolefree, president at Baldwin Richardson Foods in Rochester, gave $5,000
- Truman Tolefree, a Rochester-based real estate executive, gave $5,000. Tolefree is also a co-chair of Rochester Mayor Malik Evans’ Cannabis Preparation Commission.
- James Eagan, a financial services executive located in Erie County, gave $5,000
- Douglas Jemal, a Buffalo-area real estate developer, gave $2,500
- Francis Letro, a Buffalo-based personal injury lawyer, gave $2,500
- Linda Dobmeier, vice president at Buffalo-based Dobmeier Janitor Supply Inc, gave $1,500
- Real Estate Board Political Action Committee gave $1,000
Regulators are expected to release draft rules for the adult use cannabis industry “in late winter or early spring,” Freeman Klopott, spokesperson for New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, told Cannabis Wire. But equity efforts have been underway as regulators prepare.
Hochul also signed a bill in late February that will let hemp farmers cultivate and distribute cannabis for adult use ahead of the broader launch of the state’s adult use industry. The legislation creates the Social Equity Mentorship Program, which will create a “viable and inclusive path for social and economic equity partners interested in cannabis cultivation and processing to gain invaluable knowledge and experience in this emerging industry,” Peoples-Stokes said in a statement when the bill was signed.