New York serves as an interesting case study with regard to marijuana money and legalization. Despite the cash that industry proponents poured into politics leading up to this year’s crucial debate, marijuana legalization was not passed.

The state currently has a comprehensive medical marijuana program, and new legislation, under the guise of social justice, would have legalized the drug recreationally. The measure had been a hot topic in the past year. The passage of recreational marijuana would have opened a new market to current medical companies as well as created opportunities for marijuana groups to come in from other states.

The interest in the recreational marijuana bill is reflected in the state’s campaign finance reporting.

A quick search through state contributions records reveals that from January 2017 through June 2019, groups with an interest in the passage of recreational marijuana in the state contributed a near total of $191,000 to various state politicians. Contributors include executives from MedMen, PharmaCann, and Columbia Care, all licensed for medical marijuana in New York, as well as out-of-state groups such as Cresco Labs. Over a third of that money went to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was vehemently opposed to legalizing marijuana as recently as 2017, when he labeled it a gateway drug.

While this information excludes PACs and lobbyists, a recent Cannabis Wire article noted that industry lobbyists were indeed heavily involved in the process. “Recently released May and June state lobbying disclosures show that the state’s registered operators tried to push both Cuomo’s office and dozens of lawmakers who introduced a wide range of bills to reform the state’s laws, from adult-use legalization, to medical cannabis expansion, to hemp regulation.” The groups were heavily invested in the state’s marijuana legislation.

Cannabis Wire continues, “Assembly Bill A1617B, which would have legalized cannabis for adult use and was sponsored by Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, saw lobbying registrations from Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, PharmaCann, Columbia Care, Curaleaf, Acreage, and Etain. The same companies also submitted registrations for Senate Bill S1527B, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger. Collectively, these bills became known as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).” Senator Krueger has been the foremost “champion” of marijuana in the state legislature. Her close proximity to marijuana interests presents a concern.

Notably, Cannabis Wire adds, Curaleaf sent in a lobbyist to help push for medical marijuana for animals. The aim of course was to open up another market to a company that currently advertises miracle animal marijuana products, albeit without the approval of the FDA. Their efforts hardly reflect an interest in social justice.

The result of the efforts of politicians, not lobbyists or monied interests, in June was a sweeping decriminalization bill aimed at reducing disparities in the criminal justice system. It was truly a social justice victory. Curiously though, the buck does not stop there. The fight is not over for Big Marijuana and it’s likely that groups will double down on their investments into these politicians. They stand to gain too much from the legalization of recreational marijuana to let a social justice victory stand alone.

For a comprehensive database on marijuana industry contributions to federal lawmakers, click here.

Colton Grace

Author Colton Grace

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