BLOGGER HTML TEMPLATE AS OF 4/15/16 BEFORE REDIRECTION TO WORDPRESS New Amsterdam Psychedelic Law Blog: June 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Power to the People: cannabis legalization and the New York City Community Boards

Last night Manhattan Community Board Number 8 overwhelmingly voted to adopt a resolution concerning cannabis legalization. In essence it calls upon the state legislators who represent Community Board 8 in the Senate and Assembly to take action to cause a "serious discussion" of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act ("MRTA"), i.e. the proposed full legalization statute introduced by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Crystal People-Stokes.

The vote was something like 29-5 (as related to me by someone else who was there); I started counting too late to record the exact numbers but I could tell from the consistent "yes" votes that it was a landslide.

I consider this event a very big deal. Adoption of this resolution means that part of a municipal government is calling upon part of the state government to hold a discussion of legalization. I'm not aware of anything like this happening before.

New York City Community Boards are very interesting institutions. They are the part of New York City government with the lowest barriers to entry for the public. The City is divided up into 59 Community Board districts. The Boards hold general monthly meetings that are open to the public at which members of the public can speak. There are also numerous committees, such as health, public safety, youth, economic development, and so on that meet as well and, at least according to my experience, are also open to the public.

One feature of the Community Boards is extremely relevant to cannabis legalization. Although different Community Boards may have different committees, there is one committee they have in common: the State Liquor Authority Committee ("SLAC").  A business seeking an initial liquor license in New York City or renewal of its license will first present its application to the local Community Board via the SLAC, which then presents its position to the full Board, which then presents its position on the application to the State Liquor Authority. Now, since its intent is to regulate cannabis like alcohol, the MRTA gives regulatory authority over cannabis to the State Liquor Authority, i.e. that administrative agency becomes a cannabis regulator in addition to being an alcohol regulator. (That is the basic mechanism of general legalization: regulating cannabis like alcohol means putting regulatory authority in the liquor control authority - or a new similar authority - as opposed to the Department of Health, which in New York under Governor Cuomo treats cannabis like a severe threat to public safety.) In practice, that means that persons seeking licenses to operate cannabis businesses will also need to present their applications to the Community Boards preliminary to their applications to the State Liquor Authority. Since the Community Boards will play a fundamental role in implementing cannabis market legalization at such time as the MRTA is enacted, Community Board buy-in is important and can, perhaps, best be cultivated by beginning a dialogue now with Community Boards as to how legalization would work.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

January 5 will be Cannabis New Year's Day in New York

Yet again, it's been a long time since my last post, this time because I have been recovering from the permitting and general organizational work for the 2015 NYC Cannabis Parade and some event programming on the subject of New York City law and policy on cannabis in January and May, to be discussed more below.

A lot has happened in a very short time in New York City since this time last year, i.e. at this stage of the state legislative session. I intend to address those changes in greater detail in other posts.

The big news of the moment, of course, is the announcement of the forty-three applicants for the five cannabis cultivation and dispensing licenses to be awarded under the new "medical marijuana" law, the Compassionate Care Act (the "CCA"), followed by the possibility that there will be emergency access regulations. There is sure to be another swirl of media coverage when the next date for implementation comes around later this summer - announcement of the winners of the five licenses. New York State politics being what it is, and in light of the volatility of cannabis law reform issue within New York City, and in light of the growing media focus on the irrationality of the CCA as enacted under Cuomo's pressure, I believe that there will be a lot of interest in who gets those licenses. 

However, all of the foregoing leads only to the following. 

January 5, 2016 is going to be a big party in New York

Readers of this blog know that I believe that the CCA is a debacle that should be abandoned entirely in favor of general legalization (regulated like alcohol, as in Colorado) as soon as possible. There is no objective reason why the State of New York cannot have full legalization immediately - there is legislation (the "Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act" or the "MRTA") pending in both houses that would put cannabis under the control of the State Liquor Authority, instead of the Department of Health.

Which part of the bureaucracy regulates is, of course, a crucial consideration: up until July 2014, the police alone regulated the cannabis market (since it was completely illegal) and since July 2014 there has been the promise that the Department of Health will regulate a small portion of the cannabis market under severely restricted conditions. There was a time when transferring regulatory authority from the police to doctors was a revolutionary step forward. That is no longer the case.

The Cuomo administration has taken credit for enactment of a medical marijuana law with a heart-warming photo op in July 2014 and a lot of platitudes from the Department of Health, along with a bunch of excuses as to why patients cannot have immediate access. On paper, yes, a medical marijuana law was enacted in his term as governor. My understanding from the beginning, like that of Debra Borchardt writing for Forbes, has been that the CCA was dead-on-arrival: what had been a fair though still conservative bill was mutilated so badly by the Governor in May-June 2014 that it scarcely qualifies as a "medical marijuana" law and cannot possibly create a viable market that offers any advantage over the remainder of the market, which will remain illegal.

There is a lot of interest now in New York in the economic potential of a legal cannabis market, especially in the financially-depressed upstate counties, whose press has been covering the issue much more closely than the downstate press. A lot of people put up a lot of money to compete for the five licenses - it's a logical guess that investors are interested. Many people are ready for the creation of a functional legal market.

Therefore, January 5, 2016 is a big date. That's the date on which the medical market created by the CCA is supposed to start functioning. (Don't forget, though, the part about how the beginning of operations can be delayed indefinitely until the Executive Branch says it's a go; also don't forget that the Governor can terminate the program at will at any time.)

My read of New York is that if the market is not functioning in a meaningful way on January 5, 2016 or very shortly thereafter, people are going to know that (a) they got ripped off and (b) there is a much better option - general legalization, which is immediately within their grasp. When people wake up on January 5 either they will rejoice because the medical cannabis market is functioning well under the CCA or they will rejoice because everyone will know that the time for a "medical model" in New York has come and gone and it is time to design and implement general legalization. The media and even advocates who characterized enactment of the CCA as a victory are focusing on the profound, fatal defects in the statute and I expect that when January 5 comes with a sad excuse for a medical cannabis market they will tell it like it is. Many parents of children with severe epilepsy have not been kind in their reaction to the CCA. I'm looking forward to January 5 as the day on which Cuomo's jig is up. It would be a lovely irony if the extent of Cuomo's savaging of progressive drug law reform and his administration's disingenuousness and double-speak weigh significantly in pulling Cuomo into the wave of corruption investigations taking place here.

"Regulating Marijuana: What New York Can Learn from Other States" 

Readers of this blog may be interested in the audio recording of the program "Regulating Marijuana: What New York Can Learn from Other States" that took place at the New York City Bar Association on May 21, focusing on inconsistencies between federal, state, and local cannabis law

The event featured New York State Senator Liz Krueger; New York City Council Member Mark Levine,; Malik Burnett, M.D., Policy Manager, Drug Policy Alliance; William J. Caruso, Steering Committee member, New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform; Robert Raich, Esq.; Rachelle Yeung, Government Affairs Manager,Vicente Sederberg LLC.  Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, was the moderator. (The official program appears here.)

This program is a continuation of the examination that began with the January 28 program "The Future of Marijuana in New York City."