Update: What's Happening in New York Cannabis Legalization

Bluntness Team

By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer

The race to legal recreational weed use in New York State is now at full gallop. This month Andrew Cuomo kept the pressure of state legislature, insisting that cannabis legalization be included in the state’s budget, due April 1st. Passage there would give the state and city a year to work out some tangled practical details in time to get sales up and running by 4/20, 2020. There’s a lot left to figure out, resistance rising from some public sectors, and new confusions popping up all the time. We’re here to help you keep track.

Here’s what’s happening in the push for legal New York weed, right now, in February of 2019.

The CBD Two-Step

Early this month, New York City’s sellers of gimmicky cookies and paradoxically relaxing-yet-stimulating $9 lattes shuddered at the possibility that their days of shoving CBD into anything they were already selling might suddenly be numbered. CBD, a federally legal, non-psychoactive compound that supposedly aids general relaxation and well being, has become a familiar trend at all manner of New York City businesses over the past year. But it seems that selling cannabis without the high may also take a pause.

New York’s Eater blog reported on the case of Gramercy Park’s Fat Cat Kitchen, which had about a grand’s worth of cannabidinol-infused cookies bagged and tagged as “embargoed” in the midst of a routine Department of Health inspection. This was a vast policy shift away from lax policies seen on previous DOH visits. An official statement from the department signaled a broader crackdown coming soon. “Until cannabidiol (CBD) is deemed safe as a food additive, the Department is ordering restaurants not to offer products containing CBD."

About a week later they walked that back, if just a bit. The DOH sent an email to retailers setting a June 30th target date for CBD edibles and drinkables to make their way off-menu, dubbing the time from now until then as an “education-only period” to get the word out about the change. From summer to fall, businesses will have their goods embargoed; After October 1st, they’ll be fined for selling them at all. Selling CBD as a standalone product will still be cool, putting it in foods will not.

More twists and turns are expected as the saga continues. Members of the City Council have already come out in opposition to this change, calling it an “overreaction.”

The Cannabis Class War to Come

Bronx congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew attention this month for highlighting the budding racial and class disparities in current U.S. weed markets. Pretty much everything she does or says gets noticed, sure, but any national congressional hearings on cannabis are still worthy of note.

Ocasio-Cortez pressed industry experts as part of a Financial Services hearing earlier this month by asking:

“According to an industry trade publication, 73% of cannabis executives in Colorado and Washington are male, 81% are white. In the state of Massachusetts, just 3.1% of marijuana businesses in the state were owned by minorities, and just 2.2% were owned by women. Is this industry representative of the communities that have historically [borne] the greatest brunt of injustice based on the prohibition of marijuana?”

The answer—according to Corey Barnette, founder and owner of Washington, D.C., cannabis business, District Growers?— “Absolutely Not.”

On the streets of New York, tensions over the industry to come are already simmering. Bodega owners rallied in Ocasio-Cortez’s home borough this month, advocating for the right to be cut in on legal weed. Their argument—If weed’s been sold outside our stores for decades, why not bring it inside to the fluorescent light?

It’s an idea that holds convenient appeal for New York residents who rely on the ubiquitous corner stores for quick dinner supplies, toothpaste, batteries, a six pack of beer, and anything else you might need in hurry. It could be an organic way to ensure weed access to all five boroughs and put cannabis money in the pockets of the minorities that own the majority of the city’s 16,000 plus bodegas, as opposed to venture capitalists with visions of slick, Apple Store-resembling dispensaries in hip zip codes in their heads.

Meanwhile, Barneys, the glitzy Manhattan-based department-store chain that’s been serving the city’s elite since the 1920s, have plans to become the first major retail giant to launch its own upscale head shops. The first “High End” store, planned to open in Beverly Hills next month, is billed by the brand as a “Luxury Cannabis and Lifestyle Shop” where home bud delivery can be arranged and a sterling silver weed grinder will run you nearly $1500 bucks. If New York is legal come 2020, expanded service at their Madison Avenue flagship would surely follow. And if bodegas get the shaft while Barneys gets the nod, industry watch dogs will surely take note.

The fight over who gets to sell legal weed in New York City and where is shaping up to be a defining fight as the legalization push continues in state legislature next month. We’ll keep you posted!