Juneteenth Exemplifies the Power of an Inclusive Economy

By Damien Cornwell | June 17, 2024

Juneteenth recognizes a moment in history when the news of Black liberation from slavery reached the far reaches of our nation. It is a promise of hope for freedom, racial justice, and true equality for Black Americans. 

The nation would, over the coming decades, witness the power of an increasingly inclusive economy. 

As a leader in the New York cannabis industry, it’s impossible for me not to look at Juneteenth and compare it to the promise held for the industry we’re growing here. It’s a promise embodied in the heart of our state’s cannabis law, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), to build an industry that works to undo the damage done by heavy-handed, disproportionate enforcement against Black and Brown communities, disabled veterans, and others during cannabis prohibition.

But with the industry teetering after months of uncertainty for perceived and real failures, we’re at risk of losing out on the promise of the MRTA. We must remain committed to the law’s priorities and work together to get back on course. 

 Thanks to the outgoing leadership at the State’s Office of Cannabis Management, the market we’ve been building is living up to those goals where other states have failed. Since general licensing opened in October, 57% of those distributed fall under the social equity definition. More specifically 42% of those are owned by women and 39% are owned by a minority. By comparison, in neighboring Massachusetts, for example, only about 35% of licenses have been distributed to social equity applicants.

So, New York is on the right track. To not lose a summer of potential progress, we must focus on the following priorities: 

  • Ensure Continuity: Governor Hochul moved quickly to put new leaders at the OCM helm, certainly a positive step that must be followed with an actionable plan developed with stakeholder input.
  • Basic Blocking & Tackling: The state has to get processes down and execute. From the licensing backlog, to proper communication, to technology, the basics of hiring the right number of people, providing them with the resources they need, and establishing proper oversight and management, are the keys to success.
  • Bridge the Gap Between the Legislature and Governor: The legislature led the way in creating the MRTA and it did so with a different governor at the helm. The governor and legislative leaders must get on the same page and provide singular direction to the agency and the market it’s building, using the MRTA and its equity goals as their guide.
  • Data-Driven Process: A data-driven process that keeps the market aligned between supply and demand as it grows is the right way forward, and it must be deployed to stay on track, transparent, and predictable.

If we keep these priorities at the top of our list, there’s no doubt that the ultimate priority of building an equitable, inclusive market can be achieved. It’s time to put the turmoil behind us, and move this industry forward as we work to fulfill its promise and the promise born on Juneteenth with it.  

We’re on the precipice of making a cannabis market that unleashes the true power of inclusivity. That’s the ultimate goal of our state’s cannabis law. We know that when we build an inclusive economy, all of us are at our strongest.

Damien Cornwell serves as president of the Cannabis Association of New York.