Throughout the Business of Cannabis: New York summit last month, no matter what the panel topic was, the conversation regularly came back to social equity. It is clear that creating an equitable industry is at the heart of New York’s legalisation framework.
The event from Business of Cannabis and Prohibition Partners brought together leaders, activists and legacy operators together over two dedicated panels to discuss how good intentions can be turned into reality.
Mona Zhang, Reporter for Politico moderated the Socially Focussed panel. The panel dove deeper into the recurring theme of the day: social equity. The MRTA act was generally praised by Amber Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, who said: “The community reinvestment piece and how really thoughtfully that was put together to really yield results and to empower organizations on the ground”. Marc Ross, Head of Impact and ESG for Vicente Sederberg agreed, noting the progressive nature of the bill that has “50% of all licenses going to economically and socially diverse licensees.”
Barre Hamp, partner of Conor Green and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, shared insight into how tribal nations are handling legislation. Explaining how they passed adult-use he said: “We did weekly meetings on cannabis, on what it means, and the economic development of opportunity for the Nation.” Hamp continued: “It is us getting back to our roots, and healing and taking care of Mother Earth like we’ve been doing for thousands of years.”
Littlejohn drove home the overarching message of the panel: “It’s great that a lot of US companies have decided social equity is a priority, but it can’t just be a priority in your public facing initiative – it actually has to be part of your policy.”
In a fitting final panel of the day, moderated by Rosie Mattio, Founder and CEO of Mattio Communications, the expert panellists explored the recurring theme of the day: social equity. The panel covered the importance of an equitable market, the history of legacy brands, and discussed who will lead the way.
Ruben Lindo, retired NFL player and legacy operator, spoke passionately about making space for the people who pushed for legalisation from the ground: “We operated in the space at risk of life and liberty,” he said. Adding: “We’re proud of the brands we created underground. We’re proud of the movement. That aspect of it can’t be lost.”
Tahir Johnson, Director of Social Equity for US Cannabis Council, continued the sentiment saying: “Cannabis is newly legalised in New York, but cannabis is not new to New York,” whilst agreeing that more needs to be done to protect legacy operators. Johnson reiterated the thoughts of many of the day’s speakers: “What it really all comes down to, you know, in practice actually getting it right and that’s something that we haven’t really seen done right on a large level.” Johnson remained optimistic for New York’s chances, praising the appointment of Chris Alexander and Tremaine Wright to the Cannabis Control board saying they were “people that come from advocacy and understand, they’ve been a part of the space” and that it “goes to show their commitment to trying to get this right.”
Julia Germaine, Operating Partner at Kindtap, brought her operations and regulatory insight to the panel. Speaking on the possible competition that social equity versus non equity licensing can bring, she expressed the need for a “community where the people with the knowledge and the know how, the management expertise, want to help the equity applicants instead of creating an oppositional relationship where ‘if they succeed, we can’t succeed’”
Germaine admitted that she didn’t have all the answers and it’s “a tough one from a regulatory perspective,” but that she hopes that in an equitable New York market, “ownership reflects and lives in the community.”
Steve DeAngelo, Founder of The Last Prisoner Project, brought 50 years of experience with him, 25 years of that spent in the New York legacy market. He advocated for the industry to come together to support those moving from the illegal to legal markets, saying: “I think that it’s going to take the industry coming to the table,” and called for philanthropic investors to support that transition.
DeAngelo also connected with State Senator Liz Krueger earlier in the day, where he told her he “thought a critical part of of transitioning legacy to legal was making sure that people had an opportunity to get amnesty,” to which she agreed. Sharing the conversation with the room he noted the “completely different attitude” since he started his advocacy work. “It is really remarkable,” he noted.
In the final remarks of the panel, and the day, DeAngelo said: “None of us were ever criminals, right? We are the heroes that carry this plant of healing and enlightenment through the shadows and darkness of prohibition. We weren’t the criminals – the people who passed these laws and enforcement with such brutality are the real criminals”.