The Siena College dome in Loudonville, NY, a suburb of Albany.

A recent survey published by the Siena College Research Institute suggests that not everyone is on board with New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to allow social equity candidates first dibs on adult use retail dispensaries in New York.

The poll, which focused on New York’s 2022 political races, was completed by 804 New York State registered voters with a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

The question asked those responding to give their thoughts on New York’s effort to ensure many of the state’s first adult use dispensary licenses go to social equity candidates – phrased in the poll as “Ensuring that many of the first licenses for marijuana retail stores go to those previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes or their family members”.

[Download the poll with crosstabs.]

The results showed 54 percent were in opposition to social equity efforts, with just 33 percent in favor. Republicans polled came out as 72 percent opposed, with Democrats at a 45/43 percent split in favor/opposed. Age was another large factor in the disagreement, with results skewing towards more opposition in each advancing age-bracket.

“I was surprised at face value when I saw that,” said Mary Kruger, the executive director of the Rochester chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “When they broke it down by party, Democrat or Republican, I saw that close to a majority of Democrats were in favor.

“I have had the experience, having the same conversations for five plus years now and overwhelmingly hear support from folks when we talk about the fact that equity in New York specifically means getting access and opportunities for licenses to folks who have been disporoptiantly harmed by marijuana prohibition, specifically those who, themselves, or family members have been convicted.”

Eighteen to 34 year-olds showed only 30 percent opposition, the bracket of 35-54 raised that number to 45 percent, while the 55+ demographic showed strong feelings of disagreement at 66 percent.

“Which is interesting again when we are looking at the specific question and how it was phrased,” continued Kruger. “I think if you look at the older demographic and ask if they are in support of legalization, that’s one of the fastest growing age demographics gaining support for legalization.

“It’s the medical part of it because they are finding the medical benefits of it. Similar to breaking it down between Democrats and Republicans, it’s a common theme with social equity or any type of progressive legislation overall, we are seeing the younger demographic be more supportive of it. They seem to be more in tune with those issues and understanding the importance of equity.”

A racial divide was evident, with support/opposition numbers coming in at a 29/59 split for those identifying as white, while Black/African-Americans showed 48 percent favor compared to just 37 percent opposed. Latinos made the strongest show of support for social equity efforts at 52 percent with 40 percent against.

“I believe that people who lived in public housing, and in particular, neighborhoods where there is concrete evidence of disproportionate policing were collateral damage in the war on drugs,” said Osbert Orduña, CEO of The Cannabis Place and a social equity applicant hoping to open retail dispensaries in New York and New Jersey. “If a person who lived in these communities was not arrested, it does not take away from the fact that they lived in and survived these war zones.

“The people who lived and survived in these war zones were also negatively impacted by cannabis criminalization, dealing with the daily harassment of stop-and-frisk, and navigating the open air drug markets. The fact that people who walked this tightrope and survived are now being ignored adds to the trauma of being part of the collateral damage.”

Orduña details his experience growing up in an impact zone, noting he had been stopped and frisked numerous times and found himself caught in shootouts. He says he is in full support of social equity initiatives in the cannabis industry.

“It feels to me that anyone in these specific neighborhoods earned their right to be eligible to apply,” said Orduña.

Despite the constant influx of information and legislation regarding social equity and the cannabis industry, Kruger says survey results like this indicate more education for the public is needed.

“When people see the word ‘crime’, there is already a negative condentation there,” said Kruger. “It needs to be phrased as who has been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.

“It’s not saying that someone who committed murder is going to get the first license. There are some criteria there. Even if you weren’t arrested but a family member was, what is the collateral consequence?

“There is a lot there that we are still educating people on and it’s a conversation we will be having for a while.”

Gretchen Schmidt, Faculty Program Director for criminal justice and cannabis control from Excelsior College agrees. Schmidt believes that it’s worth noting the poll was taken among registered voters, many of which she feels, if they have been convicted of a cannabis crime, are disenfranchised and do not vote.

“The Siena poll highlights the need for education amongst New York constituents on the real losses suffered by so many New Yorkers by the war on drugs,” she said. “The poll also highlights how much work needs to be done to educate the public on the disproportionate impact of cannabis policing on minorities.”

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Rob Edwards

Rob Edwards is currently the Mid-Atlantic Regional Reporter for Grown In, reporting on the cannabis industry. He was previously a content producer/reporter for NJ Advance Media and a former beat writer...