The Mayors Op-Ed: Building A legal, Equitable Cannabis Industry That Works For Us All

March 5, 2024

When we came to office two years ago, we had a clear vision: protect public safety, revitalize the economy, and make this city more livable for hardworking New Yorkers. 

And building a legal, equitable cannabis industry is part of every part of that vision.

Legal cannabis remains the right choice for New York City. This budding, emerging industry offers a once-in-a-generation chance for those disproportionately impacted by the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ to build wealth, especially in our Black and Brown communities. For too long, these communities faced high rates of drug-related incarceration and were denied economic opportunities. But thanks to the equitable, legal cannabis industry, they have a chance to get in on the industry from the ground up. We know, however, that it’s not enough to just support the opening of new legal cannabis shops — we must have Albany grant local authorities the power to close down the illegal operators that threaten the economic success of legal shops and put the safety of our communities at risk. 

“… how we can build an equitable cannabis industry …”

Last week, I was proud to celebrate the opening of the first legal dispensary in Brooklyn owned by a Black woman. Matawana Dispensary is an example of how we can build an equitable cannabis industry that rights the wrongs of the past. Leeann Mata, the owner of Matawana Dispensary, was justice-impacted by the previous ‘War on Drugs,’ but turned her pain into purpose. Now, she is a proud small business owner in the borough she calls home.

For many years, people of color in our communities were routinely targeted when it came to cannabis law enforcement. Cannabis criminalization was used to harass, arrest, and prosecute so many of our brothers and sisters. And that’s why New York City is making sure that the New Yorkers who were harmed by the mistakes of the past are first in line for the economic opportunities that legal cannabis offers in the future.

Through the city’s Cannabis NYC initiative, we have supported the opening of 26 legal cannabis shops across the five boroughs, and, every day, we are working to create a more thriving, equitable, and legal cannabis industry.

Our commitment stems from a moral obligation to make sure that the people who were adversely affected by cannabis criminalization get their fair share of this emerging market. But these legitimate businesses are facing stiff competition from shops that are not following the rules. 

To support the legal cannabis market, New York City must have the tools necessary to stop the illegal market from growing even further. These illegal shops take money out of the registers of legal businesses, while simultaneously posing both a public safety and a public health concern — selling counterfeit products that are unsafe and often targeted towards kids.

“… New Yorkers are fed up with illegal storefronts …”

We know that New Yorkers are fed up with illegal storefronts and their unlawful business practices. Legalization is about following the law, not a free pass to sell unregulated cannabis products.

That’s why our administration is working with all our partners in Albany and New York State to get the local authority to shut down illegal smoke shops.

Related: Read more of The Mayors Op-Ed Here.

With the limited tools the city has, we have played our part to crack down on these illegal stores. We created the interagency Sheriff’s Joint Compliance Task Force to conduct enforcement against unlicensed establishments. And, since the start of this administration, we have closed 160 illegal businesses, conducted over 46,000 inspections, collected over 18 million dollars in fines, and issued 17,000 summonses.

But, to protect legal dispensaries like Leeann Mata’s, New York City needs the proper authority from Albany lawmakers to proactively inspect and shutdown illegal cannabis shops. Those who flout the cannabis laws and regulations are robbing the very communities that are finally on the cusp of benefiting from a just and equitable system. 

We will continue to work with our partners in Albany to give aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who have been justice-involved, a chance to succeed. Together, we can continue to roll equity into our economy.

Mayor Eric Adams

Mayor Eric Adams has served the people of New York City as an NYPD officer, State Senator, Brooklyn Borough President, and now as the 110th Mayor of the City of New York. He gave voice to a diverse coalition of working families in all five boroughs and is leading the fight to bring back New York City’s economy, reduce inequality, improve public safety, and build a stronger, healthier city that delivers for all New Yorkers.

Photo credit: HWM.

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