A Cannabis-branded Columbia Care dispensary in Brooklyn, NY. Credit: Submitted

A proposed new New York law would require multi-state operators in the cannabis industry to invest in impact zones.

Sponsored by State Senator James Sanders, Jr. (D-Queens), S8738A would establish the Cannabis Community Reinvestment Act which would require cannabis operators to develop reinvestment plans to be reviewed by the Department of Financial Services and obligates operators to invest in communities impacted by prohibition.

“Reinvestment needs to be a key part of any legalization bill or regime,” said Akele Parnell, head of equity partnerships at cannabis delivery company Lantern, who is leading the company’s incubator projects in New York and New Jersey. “There should definitely be a large fund to help those harmed in the war on drugs.”

The bill defines an operator as a cultivator, processor, or distributor that has been in business for at least two years, thus all Registered Operators. The bill would also require multi-state operators to include a reinvestment plan in all future applications and require these companies to defer two percent of their yearly New York profits to the fund the CCRA would establish.

If an operator chooses not to comply, the Department of Financial Services will mark the license for review, with revocation a possibility after 60 days. 

“The War on Drugs unleashed severe damage and ruined many lives, particularly in communities of color,” said Sen. Sanders in a press release. “My bill will ensure that companies that profit the most from the legalization of cannabis will contribute part of their profits back into the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.”

One organization, the National Cannabis Party, a presidential electoral party registered with the Federal Elections Commission – co-founded by Sephida Artis-Mills and Reggie “Redman” Noble – has worked closely with Sen. Sanders on this bill. Leaders of NPC aim to ensure the bill’s revenues are distributed to the original investors in cannabis: legacy market participants.

“Our president, Sephida Artis-Mills, had a pretty big hand in helping write that bill, at least on the MSO side of things,” said Damon Jackson, a co-founder of the NPC. “The MSO’s, the amount of money they have made, their business model, it has greatly affected the community.

“We aren’t saying we aren’t willing to work with the MSO’s, because we are. And we can learn from one another. But we are definitely here to make sure we are giving back to the community.”

Bill language does not specify where the funds it collects would go, but observations from other states and similar efforts could pave the way. 

“It should be critical infrastructure that improves the lives and the possibilities for the people from those impacted communities,” said Parnell, who hadn’t investigated the finer details of the bill, still in its infancy. “Job training, rebuilding communities that have dilapidated areas, it should go to helping create safe and healthy communities.”

The bill is currently in the Senate Committee for Investigations and Government Operations, and both Sen. Sanders and Artis-Mills spent time with lawmakers on Thursday and Friday of last week discussing its future.

“We want this industry for those who do not have a voice to know there is strength in numbers,” said Jackson. “It’s one thing to be a spectator and sit back and complain about what’s not right, but it’s something else entirely to do something about it.”

Jackson says the NPC team is proud of the initiative and that early feedback has been positive. It’s too early to tell how far S8738A will advance right now, but he is “hopeful”.

“The power belongs to the people, and so does the plant. To control the way people choose their medicine, and overall wellness, is a civil rights issue we need to address,” said Artis-Mills.