Ensure minority stake in marijuana industry

by Landon Dais

New York could become the 12th state to fully legalize marijuana. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support is relatively new, he has an opportunity to make a resounding statement as presidential campaigns begin to tackle the issue on a national stage.

The governor is an astute politician who understands major legislation wins are based on sound policy and savvy politics. By leveraging the State of the State address to set marijuana legalization as a significant legislative priority, he ensures it will be a major playing card during state budget negotiations.

However, the governor can stand out from previous legalization efforts by ensuring small and medium businesses owned by minorities and women are the majority of the New York marijuana industry. Alternatively, giving the industry to established corporate marijuana, big donors or former Wall Street executives will cause political doom for Democrats.

Specifically, the governor must ensure black and Latino New Yorkers obtain a significant stake in the new green economy. These communities deserve special treatment because they were most harmed by the war on drugs. The public is not naive; it is clear politicians are legalizing marijuana as a way to create revenue to mitigate deficit gaps. However, a savvy Democratic politician can capitalize on the revenue potential of marijuana while also supporting the most loyal base of the Democratic Party — black and Latino communities.

Failure to ensure fair market share will haunt Democrats, particularly black and Latino caucus members. Younger Democrats of color are tired of their party failing to fulfill promises and thus are supporting non-incumbent primary candidates. There is tremendous pressure on Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes and Cuomo to get this right.

Before New York, every state has failed in successfully implementing diversity in the marijuana industry. If the governor properly executes a meaningful diversity plan, he will create tens of thousands of jobs in the communities affected by the war on drugs.

Who knows — maybe a strong, progressive move like this could be exactly what he needs to put him on the road to the White House someday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2020 State of the State Address on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Landon Dais is an attorney and chief strategy officer of Plant Inspired Future, an online cannabis products company. He was formerly the national director of partnerships of MedMen, a cannabis dispensary and delivery firm, and political director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

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