We recently had the opportunity to discuss the future of cannabis in our region with New York State Assembly Majority Leader and Sponsor of the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act (MRTA), Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
Q: What do you see on the horizon for the cannabis industry in Western New York?
A: I think that we’ll see cannabis legalized for adult use in New York very soon. The Governor and a lot of my colleagues in the State government are committed to making it happen. I think that our city of Buffalo and the WNY region are positioned to become a major hub in the cannabis industry. We have a lot of great companies in our city that can support everything from farming and production, manufacturing, education & research, all the way down to legal & accounting services. We already have a number of farmers that are involved in growing hemp and we also have some very progressive law and accounting firms that can help businesses address some of the challenges that are encountered in the industry.
Q: What are some of the hurdles that stand in the way of cannabis legalization in New York?
A: New York is not a referendum state like California, so we can’t pass this by a ballot initiative (petition of voters). If we had that option available to us, I have a feeling cannabis for adult use would have already been passed by now. But we don’t have that option, so we have to get this done through a legislative process which means the State Senate, Assembly, and Governor all have to reach an agreement. My bill No. A3506, the MRTA, has a lot of support. The governor’s office put forward their own bill* that had a lot of similarities to our bill. For example, it wants a huge investment into solving problems with the war on drugs and a significant investment into the communities that were disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.
Q: Do you think New York’s medical marijuana program is a success?
A: I think there are components of it that are successful. For instance, I think it improved safety for consumers. Purchasing medical cannabis at a dispensary is certainly safer than purchasing cannabis off of the street, but I think there are some failures as well particularly regarding access. The product can be very expensive which can limit access and there is extremely poor access to providers and dispensaries in some areas of the State. We’re lucky to have three dispensaries and plenty of providers here in Buffalo, but some areas of the State are extremely underserved and have no access to providers or dispensaries at all. That needs to change. I also think patients should have access to more ways to use the medicine, including the plant itself.
Q: What changes would you like to see in how law enforcement and the judicial system address cannabis-related crimes and drug-related crimes in general?
Well we’ve successfully decriminalized cannabis throughout New York which is a huge win. Doing so automatically expunged a lot of low-level cannabis crimes and reduced the punishment for possession of cannabis down to a fine. This is definitely a step in the right direction and should be celebrated, but it’s important to realize that legalizing cannabis won’t fix racism. Systemic racism in our community is a much bigger problem that will require a lot more though and effort to start to change. As for drug-related crimes in general, I think we need more progress to be made as far as harm reduction goes and in developing effective treatment approaches.
We thank the Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for speaking with us and for continuing to advocate for cannabis reform in New York State. Crystal Peoples-Stokes is a democratic member and Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly and represents the 141st Assembly district. She attended Buffalo State College and continues to reside in Buffalo.
*Footnote: Governor Andrew Cuomo originally included cannabis legalization in his office’s budget proposal to the State Legislature. On April 1st, cannabis legislation was omitted from the final budget, likely ending any chance of cannabis legalization in 2020. COVID-19’s spread across New York contributed to a shift in legislative priorities.