New York City Bodega Owners Fight For Their Right To Sell Cannabis

New York City Bodega Owners Fight For Their Right To Sell Cannabis

Wouldn’t it be convenient to be able to buy all of your necessities like groceries, laundry detergent, beer, and cannabis from one store in just one stop on the way home from work? That may soon be a reality for the people of New York City.

Recreational cannabis is expected to be legalized in New York as early as this year, and the bodegas in New York City want a guarantee that they will be able to distribute the product when that happens. The United Bodegas of America held a press conference to make sure Governor Cuomo understands their intent.

Bodegas are the small, locally owned retail spaces, or convenience stores, selling any combination of beer, wine, cigarettes, lottery tickets, groceries, and other necessities in New York City neighborhoods. Bodegas first opened in the Hispanic communities of New York City during the 1940s. The concept expanded during the 1950s, and today there are 15,000 bodegas spread throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

Bodegas already have experience selling items that are highly regulated by the state, like alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and lottery tickets, so incorporating the sale of cannabis would be an easy transition, according to bodega owners.

“Right now we sell cigarettes, we sell beer – we are highly regulated. There is no reason why we cannot be included in the packaging, distribution, and sale of marijuana,” said Fernando Mateo, a representative of the United Bodegas of America.

From a social justice standpoint, the bodega representatives are also calling for Gov. Cuomo to take into account the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. “All this money should not go to white-owned businesses. It should not go to corporate America. It should be shared with the underdogs,” Mateo said at the press conference.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s proposal cannabis would be tracked from seed to sale, just like in other legal states, but the production and distribution of cannabis would require different licenses. This is expected to make it more difficult for one company to take over, leaving plenty of room for small businesses to succeed.

The New York state legislature is still considering the legalization proposal that Gov. Cuomo presented last month.

New York Expected to Legalize in 2019

New York Expected to Legalize in 2019

Just fewer than two years since insisting it was a “gateway drug,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is singing a different tune regarding the legalization of cannabis for recreational use in The Empire State.

“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” Governor Cuomo said in February of 2017. “There’s two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”

Fast forward to present day, and Governor Cuomo is in favor of establishing a regulated, legal market. This was showcased during a recent speech when Cuomo said, “Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”

“Legalize Adult Use of Recreational Marijuana,” is also included in his agenda for the first 100 days of 2019. Ending the racial disparity in marijuana related arrests was a major motivator in his shift from opposition. According to the agenda, “Governor Cuomo will end the disproportionate criminalization of one race over another by regulating, legalizing and taxing adult use of recreational marijuana.”

This shift in opinion did not happen overnight. After reading a report from the state Health Department in July of last year, Cuomo acknowledged that, “The situation on marijuana is changing.” The report, titled “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State,” started with a brief history of cannabis in the United states, covering how it was widely used as medicine and sold in pharmacies until the 1930s. The report concluded that there are more advantages to establishing a regulated market than there are disadvantages.

One of the most compelling potential benefits mentioned in the report was the tax revenue the state could collect. An analysis released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer estimated that the legal cannabis market in New York could exceed $3 billion. The tax revenue estimated from sales could be as much as $436 million each year. That amount is difficult to ignore when state schools and law enforcement agencies would benefit greatly from the funds.

Job creation, economic development, fewer minority arrests and the opportunity to explore different options regarding personal health were also listed among the potential benefits that may come with a legal market in New York. “The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in N.Y.S. outweigh the potential negative impacts,” the Health Department concluded. “Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations.”

Governor Cuomo also recognizes that maintaining prohibition may soon be a waste of state resources since people can make legal purchases in Massachusetts, where retail shops opened doors to the public in November of last year. Legislators in New Jersey are also working to pass legislation to legalize the recreational use and retail sale, and Connecticut is predicted to legalize soon as well.

If New York beats New Jersey to the punch, it will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. It would also be second to legalize by state legislature instead of a voter initiative. The Pew Research Center released a poll in 2018 which revealed that 62 percent of people in America are in favor of legalizing marijuana. An even larger number of millennials, 74 percent, responded that they supported legalization. The number of those in favor has increased since 2015 when only 53 percent reported that they believed cannabis should be legal in the United States.

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