Days after filing a much-anticipated federal marijuana legalization bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined advocates and community leaders in New York City on Sunday to launch a new cannabis resource center that’s meant to promote equity in the state’s marijuana market.
The leader said that New York’s cannabis law, and its equity components in particular, should serve as a model for the rest of the country. But while the state’s reform move is a positive step, he stressed the need for a federal policy change in order to most effectively achieve social justice.
To that end, there is overlap between the legalization law that New York enacted and his new legislation to end prohibition, Schumer said. Specifically, while both would stop cannabis criminalization, they were also crafted in a way that attempts to help people who have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
“We’re trying at the federal level to mimic what New York has done—not just in legalization and ending criminalization but making sure social justice is an essential part of any legislation,” Schumer said at the event, adding that he and colleagues are “making some progress” in building bipartisan buy-in on marijuana reform from “conservative Republicans and libertarians.”
Someone in the audience picked up on that point and said “they all smoke too.”
Laughter ensued across the room, with Schumer nodding his head and saying, “Yeah, they smoke.”
Watch Schumer’s marijuana comments in the video below, courtesy of Tanya Osborne:
He also said pointed out that New York has a history of taking the lead on policies like labor and welfare reform, and the federal government has often followed suit. The state could similarly help usher in a new era of federal cannabis policy, he said.
New York regulators are now actively working to implement rules and start licensing retailers by the end of the year.
Schumer’s bill, for its part, has been introduced on Capitol Hill, but there’s sizable skepticism about its prospects of passing in the Senate with its 60-vote threshold. For now, the leader is highlighting the more than a year of work that went into drafting the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).
The Bronx Cannabis Hub is an initiative that’s being spearheaded by the Bronx Community Foundation and Bronx Defenders. It will serve as a center where people can learn about the state’s marijuana law, get assistance with filling out licensing applications and also receive legal aid.
This week—we introduced our bill to end the federal cannabis prohibition & make criminal justice reforms
Today—I’m standing with @BronxDefenders at The Bronx Cannabis Hub
The hub will catalyze new cannabis entrepreneurs in a borough that bore the injustices of the War on Drugs pic.twitter.com/QY68ftQc9z
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 24, 2022
“This great Cannabis Hub will become a model—not just for New York City, not just for New York State, but let there be hubs like this throughout the country,” Schumer said.
The Bronx Cannabis Hub is designed to further those objectives. And it may come in especially useful in the coming weeks as regulators prepare to open applications for retail licenses for people who have been adversely impacted by marijuana criminalization.
The newly approved licensing rules for those retailers build on Cannabis Control Board (CCB) approvals of numerous conditional cultivator applications, which are being granted to existing hemp businesses in the state. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a bill to create the conditional cultivation licenses in February.
In recent years, Schumer has consistently embraced the state’s cannabis industry, even as federal reform as stalled in Congress. He visited a hemp farm in 2019, for example, and talked about the need for clarity on federal financial rules for the legal crop.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess and publicly consume cannabis in New York, as well as gift marijuana to other adults as long as they aren’t being compensated.
“MRTA is not just about ending criminalization, but ensuring that people who were harmed are recompensed before big businesses or big banks. It ensures that social justice is a part of any legislation we pass.”—@SenSchumer pic.twitter.com/1S6twlvrwK
— The Bronx Cannabis Hub (@bxcannabishub) July 24, 2022
Last month, CCB also approved a series of proposed rules for marijuana packaging, labeling, advertising and testing requirements.
During April’s CCB meeting, regulators also approved revised regulations to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants for personal use following a public comment period on initial rules that were proposed last year.
In general, the rule would allow registered patients and caregivers to grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature. They could possess up to five pounds of cannabis derived from those plants, which is consistent with the state’s adult-use legalization law.
Meanwhile, New York lawmakers recently sent a budget proposal to the governor’s desk that includes provisions to let marijuana businesses take state tax deductions that are available to other industries despite an ongoing federal ban on cannabis. That was signed into law.
Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) filed a standalone bill in December seeking a similar carve-out for the state’s burgeoning cannabis market. Assemblymember Donna Lupardo (D) followed suit in her chamber. Cooney also filed a bill in May to allow regulators to disclose certain information about cannabis licensees to financial institutions to promote marijuana banking.
Hochul has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.
The governor released a State of the State book in January that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.
That proposal was also cited in the governor’s executive budget, which was released in January. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
Hochul said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”
The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has also been putting out PSAs to promote public education about the marijuana policy change, including a first-of-its-kind taxpayer-funded marijuana ad that aired in most of New York during an NBA Finals game last month. The PSA boldly addressed the racially discriminatory harms of cannabis criminalization and highlighted steps that state regulators are taking to right the wrongs of prohibition.
CCB also wants the opportunity to showcase its marijuana PSA campaign on the social media app TikTok, but it was told by the company previously that it could not use the platform because of its existing ban on the use of the word “cannabis.” The department recently sent a letter to TikTok, requesting a policy change for government marijuana-related ads that concern public education.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chaired by COAO sponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday to discuss federal cannabis reform, and the newly filed legislation is expected to be a focal point.
Witnesses who are set to testify before the panel include a former federal marijuana prisoner and anti-cannabis author Alex Berenson.