NY Bill Would Extend Marijuana Equity to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People

December 21, 2021

A New York senator filed a bill to make it so that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can qualify as social equity applicants under the state’s marijuana law.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) introduced the legislation last week, shortly after filing a separate bill to include transgender and nonbinary people in the cannabis social equity program. He’s also behind other recent marijuana reform proposals related to cannabis business tax benefits and licensing.

New York legalized marijuana earlier this year. Adults are currently able to possess and publicly consume cannabis, but regulators are still working to implement retail sales. In the interim, Cooney is seeking to ensure that the equity provisions are even more inclusive.

“I am proud to introduce legislation to include members of our lesbian, gay and bisexual community for priority licensure in the new adult-use recreational cannabis market,” the senator told Marijuana Moment. “When New York State legalized adult-use recreational marijuana we made a commitment to addressing the discrimination and injustice caused by the War on Drugs.”

“Social justice and social equity are embedded throughout the [Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act] and the legislation is designed to uplift historically marginalized groups through economic opportunities in the cannabis industry,” he said. “We are committed to working to ensure we are meeting our equity licensing goals so that New York creates the most inclusive cannabis economy in the nation.”


Under the state’s legalization law, at least 50 percent of marijuana business licenses must go to equity applicants. Right now, as enacted earlier this year, that category includes people “from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” minority- and women-owned businesses, distressed farmers and service-disabled veterans.

“This state has recognized that discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation is a violation of human rights law,” the justification section of the bill says. “The social equity aspect of the MRTA is meant to uplift historically marginalized groups through economic opportunities in the cannabis industry and this bill furthers that effort.”

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

The first licensed recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on sovereign tribal lands, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees in October.

In July, Cooney filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The proposal has also been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.

Cooney is also sponsoring a newly filed bill to allow licensed cannabis companies to deduct certain business expenses on their state tax returns.

“I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs” that could be created in the new industry, Governor Hochul said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who replaced Andrew Cuomo after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.

At a recent event, she touted the fact that she had quickly made regulatory appointments that had been delayed under her predecessor. “I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs” that could be created in the new industry, the governor said.

Meanwhile, New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) held its first meeting in October, a key step toward implementing the state’s adult-use marijuana program.

Members of the board, who were appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, announced that medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell flower cannabis products to qualified patients. The $50 registration fee for patients and caregivers was also permanently waived.

Last month, regulators also approved rules for the state’s cannabinoid hemp program, notably clarifying that flower from the crop can be sold but delta-8 THC products are currently prohibited from being marketed.

Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.

The state comptroller recently projected that New York stands to eventually generate $245 million in annual marijuana revenue, which they say will help offset losses from declining tobacco sales.

For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.

The state Department of Labor separately announced in new guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.

Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Another state legislator filed legislation last week to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes and establish facilities where the psychedelic could be grown and administered to patients.



Photograph via Pixabay

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

Kyle Jaeger

Kyle is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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