In the weeds: Breaking down New York’s goal of legalizing recreational marijuana – RochesterFirst

Recreational Cannabis Legalisation

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — This week we have produced a three-part series regarding New York state’s effort to legalize adult use recreational marijuana.

We traveled to Massachusetts to see what legalized marijuana looks there, and if it could be replicated in New York. We broke down the proposals for the legislation, specifically in regards to home cultivation and criminality. We looked at similar proposals from years past to see what held up the legislation before, and if it could happen again.

In the special above, News 8’s Adam Chodak sit down with Jason Klimek, Chair of the Cannabis Practice Group of Boylan Code LLP, who answered the unanswered left questions after our three-part series.


LEE, Mass. (WROC) — If you leave the Mass Pike not far in from the New York state border and swing by Canna Provisions directly off the exit you’ll find what looks like an artisan shop that’s been welcoming tourists to the Berkshires for decades.

That shop, though, opened less than three years ago and what they sell wasn’t legal in Massachusetts until 2018.

Canna Provisions in Lee, MA is happily selling marijuana.

”This is all grown and manufactured right here in Massachusetts,” Meg Sanders, Canna Provisions CEO, said while gesturing to table topped with various THC-infused products.

While New York State appears to move closer to legalizing adult-use cannabis, Lee stands as an example of what the transition might look like.

First, the money.

Promises of increased tax revenue have been kept, at least here and at least for now.

“Business is phenomenal, I mean it has been gangbusters since we opened,” Sanders said adding they’ve paid tax on millions of dollars of revenue.

MORE | Legislation for recreational marijuana, online sports betting proposed in New York state

The traffic, at least initially, proved to be an annoyance for some locals, but Emmy Davis, who runs Starving Artist Cafe, says the dispensary is now largely seen as just another business.

“At first it was hard because the grocery store is past the pot shop so you had to drive by and there was a lot of traffic, but it’s kind of thinned out and it’s been pretty good,” Davis said.

Lee Police Chief Craig Desantis had his doubts about legalization in general, and still does, but when asked whether he’s seen more cases of impaired driving, he said:

“I don’t want to speak for other communities, but I haven’t seen an uptick in our town, but it’s a real concern. Officers can use assessments, but it’s not the same, the courts don’t recognize those assessments to be the same as field sobriety tests related to alcohol.”

While Canna Provisions is the only marijuana game in town in Lee, there are around 100 other dispensaries now open around the commonwealth with many of them owned and run by small entrepreneurs.

“The state didn’t create a competitive licensing scheme so there’s no limit at the state level to licenses and what they did is they left that up to local municipalities to figure out how they wanted this to be in existence in their town even if they wanted it to be in existence in their town,” Sanders said.

So now a product you buy at Canna Provisions in Lee, MA is very much legal, but drive a few miles west over the New York State border and it’s very much not.

But that doesn’t stop a lot of New Yorkers from doing it.


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — While most state lawmakers have voiced support for the legalization of recreational marijuana there remains some significant points of difference over what legalization should look like.

For example, there are two camps on the issue over whether it should be legal for people to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home.

The state assembly supports growing at home claiming it will prevent people who don’t have easy access to a dispensary from buying on the black market.

“Just like you can brew beer in your home, you can develop wine in your home, those kinds of things, we want to afford citizens the opportunity to do the same thing with growing marijuana,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson, a Democrat who represents the Rochester area.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office responded to News 8 saying, “The proposal builds off of emerging best practices for public health and safety which currently restrict home growing in place in WA and IL, and proposed in NJ, RI, and CT, to ensure all cannabis products are produced by regulated licensees and pass rigorous product testing and other consumer safety requirements.”

Oneida County Sheriff Rob Maciol speaking on behalf of the NYS Sheriffs’ Association, which opposes legalization, says the governor’s opposition to home grow lends support to the argument that Cuomo is only interested in the tax revenue, not the fundamental positions behind legalization.

“Under his plan you can only possess it if you pay the 10.25% tax the governor is putting on it,” Maciol said.

Cuomo’s legalization plan is part of his budget proposal.

Lawmakers have until April 1 to pass a budget so expect negotiations on issues like this one to heat up in the coming weeks.


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — While there appears to be an air inevitably surrounding this year’s push to legalize recreational marijuana by April 1, some significant – and familiar – sticking points remain.

Those sticking points are revealed in the comparison of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legalization plan and the state legislature’s.

“The governor’s proposal seems to emphasize more larger companies being involved where you’re going to need additional equity or substantial equity in order to participate in this industry,” said Harry Bronson, a Democratic Assemblymember who represents the Rochester area.

Cuomo’s office disputes that claim, but the sentiment sums up the general disagreement between the two camps.

Specifically, the points of difference lie in policy details like taxes, criminalization, home grow, destination of revenue, and competition.

On taxes, Cuomo’s plan, which is called the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, or CRTA, uses a two-tier system.

Essentially, the state would tax the product before it’s even sold to the public and that tax would be based off of the amount of THC in it.

Sales tax plus a separate state 10.25% tax would then get applied to the final retail sale price, which in some parts of the states could mean a tax at the time of purchase of close to 20%.

Those who support the legislature’s proposal, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or MRTA, say Cuomo’s proposal would make marijuana too expensive and push people back to the black market.

The MRTA only taxes the final retail product and might not raise as much much money to help New York State close its massive deficit as the CRTA would.

Supporters of the MRTA also express concern over a portion of the CRTA that pertains to criminality.

Currently in New York State, possession of a small marijuana is only a violation, but language in the CRTA says possession of illicit marijuana after legalization would be deemed a misdemeanor.

Cuomo’s office told New 8 Tuesday they do not “intend” to criminalize possession and said changes are possible during negotiations with the legislature.

There’s a very clear difference in the two plans when it comes to growing marijuana at home: the MRTA allows it and the CRTA does not.

Where tax revenue goes has been one obstacle that has tripped up previous legalization efforts and that debate has not disappeared.

The MRTA lays out specific percentages of revenue that will go to specific programs, many of which are designed to target communities that “have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war.”

A large percentage will get channeled to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund.

The CRTA on the other hand will set aside a specific amount, not percentage, to community programs, but some in the legislature claim that this part of the proposal is structured as more of a promise than a guarantee and can change based on the whims of the governor.

Lastly, legsilators say Bronson say they need to see specific prohibitions that would prevent bigger medical marijuana companies, which already have a foothold in the state, from crowding out the market and preventing smaller entrepreneurs from competing.

The CRTA is now part of Cuomo’s budget proposal and some key legislators in the legalization fight say they’ll need to see some changes before they can approve the budget.