New York bureaucrats are taking big-time steps to advance equity in cannabis as they continue to work toward implementing an inclusive adult-use market by the end of the year.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced June 22 the selection of Social Equity Impact Ventures LLC, a minority-led investment team, to sponsor and manage New York’s $200-million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Program that was included in the state’s fiscal 2023 enacted state budget.
The program, which will help develop conditional adult-use cannabis dispensaries for social equity licensees, is a key component of the state’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative—an effort to promote social equity through positioning individuals with prior cannabis-related criminal offenses to make the first adult-use cannabis sales in New York.
Impact Ventures is a joint venture between an entity led by NBA Hall-of-Famer and entrepreneur Chris Webber and entrepreneur Lavetta Willis—partners in a fund for cannabis-related ventures—and a firm affiliated with Siebert Williams Shank (SWS), one of the nation’s leading minority- and women-owned financial services firms that offers investment banking. SWS CEO Suzanne Shank and Chief Administration Officer William Thompson, the former New York City Comptroller, will lead the firm’s role in managing New York’s Social Equity Cannabis Investment Program.
Webber said in a press release from the governor’s office that he’s honored to work with New York officials to help right the wrongs for individuals who were unjustly victimized by outdated cannabis policies.
“New York’s thoughtful and inclusive approach to establishing equity in the cannabis space and creating opportunities for those affected by the war on drugs is truly unparalleled,” he said. “Together, we look forward to starting the healing process within the community nationwide and it starts by giving aspiring entrepreneurs in this state the education, resources and training to thrive in the cannabis sector. Our hope is that New York’s holistic approach can be replicated in other markets and help accelerate the growth of underrepresented businesses across the country.”
Since being sworn into office last August, Hochul has taken a proactive approach on working toward implementing the state’s adult-use industry. Wednesday’s announcement will help make headway on positioning social equity entrepreneurs to succeed in the forthcoming market, the governor said in her press release.
“Today, New York takes an important step forward in creating jobs and opportunity for those who, historically, have been disproportionately targeted for cannabis infractions,” Hochul said. “As we create a new industry in New York, I am proud to see real progress in addressing the economic needs of our future entrepreneurs.”
State officials from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) first released two requests for proposals last month in their search for firms to oversee the $200-million public-private program, which will be supported by up to $50 million in licensing fees and revenue from the adult-use industry, and up to $150 million from the private sector that will be raised by the fund managers.
The program will help New York finance the leasing and equipping of up to 150 conditional adult-use dispensaries to be operated by those who have been impacted by inequitable enforcement of prohibition. For instance, a 2021 analysis of cannabis-related arrests in 2020 in New York City’s five boroughs revealed that people of color comprised 94% of those arrested, AM New York Metro reported.
“New York stands alone in addressing the key barriers of accessing capital and the market that have held back minority, women and social justice involved entrepreneurs in every other state in the nation,” DASNY President Reuben McDaniel III said in the governor’s release. “I’m proud of DASNY’s role in a program [that] will help build generational wealth that has been out of reach for far too many of our citizens, and that will succeed in creating social equity when so many other states’ programs have failed.”
Cannabis Advisory Board
In addition to naming the program’s investment team, Hochul announced the appointment of new members to New York’s Cannabis Advisory Board, which will work with the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to establish an equitable and inclusive industry, support market development and oversee the disbursement of the New York State Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, among other action items.
Grants from that reinvestment fund (separate from the $200-million program) will support communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition. The reinvestment fund will include job training and placement, reentry services for justice-involved New Yorkers, system navigation services, youth-serving programs, financial literacy services and more.
Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—New York’s cannabis law signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year—40% of funds raised through taxes on cannabis products and from licensing fees will go to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund. Another 40% will go directly to school districts in municipalities that did not opt out of cannabis sales, and 20% will be targeted for drug treatment programs.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie each appointed three people to the 20-member board.
“When we passed the MRTA and legalized the adult use of marijuana, it was critical that we do it in a way that did not leave behind communities that have historically been devastated by state and federal drug laws,” Heastie said in the press release. “The Cannabis Advisory Board is a key part is making that a reality going forward. I am proud to appoint The Arthur A. Duncan II, Chandra Redfern and Armando Rosado to the board, and look forward to seeing them use their expertise to create a grant process that will reinvest in our communities and in programs that will improve the lives of New Yorkers.”
The advisory board members include:
- Alejandro Alvarez, CEO/co-founder of Soulful Synergy
- Joe Belluck, Partner at Belluck & Fox LLC
- Dr. Junella Chin, MD, Integrative Medical Cannabis Physician
- Allan Clear, MD, Director at Office of Drug User Health at New York State Department of Health
- Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, MD, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports
- Ibrahim Jamil Darden, Ebro in the Morning
- Kathleen DeCataldo, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Student Support Services at the New York State Department of Education
- TheArthur A. Duncan II, Esq., Counselor and Attorney at Law at the Law Office of TheArthur A. Duncan
- Alan Gandelman, President of New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association
- Dareth Glance, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
- Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Adviser for Policy and Community Affairs at the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal
- Gary Johnson, Chair of the NAACP New York State Economic Development
- Nikki Kateman, Political and Communications Director at Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW
- Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Executive Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services
- Russell Oliver, Director of the Division of Employment and Workforce Solutions at the New York State Department of Labor
- Sarah Ravenhall, Executive Director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials
- Chandra Redfern, CEO at the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers Inc.
- Armando Rosado, Private Investigator at AR Investigations Inc.
- Peter Schafer, Owner at Nanticoke Gardens
- Scott Wyner, Esq., General Counsel at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets