New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has high hopes for recreational cannabis sales in the Empire State, projecting that a change in the law this year will yield $188 million in tax revenue by 2025.

As Cuomo borrows a page or two from Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker’s social equity-infused legislative gameplan, two Illinois companies – Oak Park-based PharmaCann and Chicago-based Cresco Labs – are investing in lobbyists.

Specifically, according to City & State New York, PharmaCann to date has paid $199,992 in fees to New York-based Mercury Public Affairs while Cresco so far has dished out $120,000 to Albany-based Statewide Public Affairs. Both companies own cultivation facilities and medical dispensary licenses throughout the state, including stores in New York City (primed to become the number one marijuana metropolis on the planet).

Cuomo, after previous unsuccessful attempts to legalize the plant in New York, has a new legislative template to guide him courtesy of Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly. Last June adult-use cannabis became the law of the Land of Lincoln. Passage of the law became possible only after elected officials, social equity advocates and industry collaborated to define provisions and benefits awarded to individuals and organizations adversely impacted by the previous criminalization of cannabis-based commerce in the state.

According to Illinois Statute, companies like PharmaCann and Cresco (as well as Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries and Elmurst-based Revolution Global among others) negotiated the right to get a head start in recreational sales in exchange for $100,000 in social equity contributions and donations for each new location opened. Participating companies have the option of allocating funds to a Cannabis Business Development Fund, incubator programs, community colleges (including Oakton’s existing program) and qualified entrepreneurs.

Now that Illinois is online, industry awaits how a big, blue state like New York will fashion its laws and expand access to what some analysts already see as a multi-billion dollar market.

“I think social equity will be as big a part of New York’s bill as it was for Illinois, said Jeremy Unruh, PharmaCann’s director of regulatory and public affairs. “It may be even bigger because New York has a different progressive profile.”

PharmaCann operates a 130,000 square-foot cultivation facility in the state as well as dispensaries in Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo and The Bronx. Cresco last year acquired dispensaries in Williamsburg and Long Island, and now owns ten licenses to either sell or cultivate medical cannabis in New York State.

Unruh, an early employee at PharmaCann, pridefully says that his privately-held company “has never pushed back on any social equity provision proposed” by a state. He added that a legalization conversation that began with medical patient advocates now includes community representatives who will have a hand in deciding if and how cannabis becomes fully legal in New York.

“The same political winds that drove this industry five years ago are not the same political winds driving it today,” he said. 

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.