New York Might Be Late To Legalization, But It Can Still Lead
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Although New York led the country on cannabis decriminalization in the 1970s and the repeal of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s, the Empire State has been embarrassingly slow to fully legalize cannabis this century. This is despite having overwhelming public support, a thriving illicit market, and a large cannabis delivery infrastructure already built. Now, with New Jersey voters amending the state constitution to legalize recreational cannabis, neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania will have no choice but to look closely at regulation themselves if they want to avoid falling behind.
As Benjamin Franklin said, New Jersey is a “barrel tapped at both ends”. What happens in New Jersey affects Philadelphia and New York City, and visa versa. There are millions of people who commute daily between these states, with a robust infrastructure of trains, ferries, bridges, and tunnels to make it as easy as possible. The reality is cannabis, like everything else, flows freely between these state borders.
Legislators in New York have been discussing the idea of cannabis legalization publicly for the last several years while states on both coasts have lapped them. With a fully democratic legislature and a supportive governor, victory is within their grasp this coming year. And since the revenue would have such a large economic impact, it should be an easy sell for the Legislature to pass legalization as part of their budget process in the first half of the year, making it politically feasible for those who represent even the most conservative districts.
Social justice first
If New York wants to try to retain its national reputation as a progressive leader, it should not just rush to compete with New Jersey to be first; it should pass a progressive law centered around promoting social justice. The industry should have low barriers to entry, benefit communities most impacted by prohibition, and encourage social entrepreneurship.
These are areas in which both NJ and NY can still lead the nation. And while the process of regulating and licensing a new industry is long, there are economic benefits we can experience as soon as the laws pass. The state(s) can build up the ancillary parts of the industry that don’t touch the plant and therefore don’t require licensing such as the law firms, accountants, consultants, PR firms, and marketing agencies that cannabis companies will eventually rely upon to thrive.
There are many advantages to cannabis legalization. Although many states beat New York to the punch, so far none of them have fully realized all of the benefits in a way that maximizes the opportunity to promote social and economic justice. That, in my opinion, is where New York can lead again. If the Empire State creates a model industry that others want to emulate, it can once again call itself a progressive leader.