As Governor Kathy Hochul sets her agenda for next year, her first priorities should include expanding New York’s medical marijuana program and adding new minority-owned registrants willing to serve underprivileged communities.
When the Marijuana Regulation Taxation Act went into effect earlier this year, it legalized adult marijuana in New York; adopted a tiered licensing scheme; and launched a visionary social justice program to eradicate the racial injustices of the American drug war. But equally importantly, the MRTA enacted an expansion of the state’s existing medical marijuana program. Though less well known than the Adult Use Act, its provisions are no less pertinent to the welfare of New Yorkers and to the cause of racial and social equality.
It is also no coincidence that the provision of medical marijuana in “unserved and underserved areas of the state” explicitly underpins the purpose of the MRTA. During the Covid-19 pandemic, minorities suffered from higher infection and death rates. (In New York City, for example, the death rate per 100,000 population was 122 for whites, but 238 for Latinos and 244 for African Americans.) And the higher incidence of deaths and illnesses is directly related to inadequate access to medical resources.
The New York Department of Health has had the power to expand the medical marijuana program since the Compassionate Care Act was passed in 2015. However, the ministry has so far only registered 10 companies that grow, distribute and sell medical marijuana. Anyone can open four pharmacies one after the other. Compare this to Florida, a state with a comparable population. 22 medical marijuana companies have opened more than 300 pharmacies there.