Document shows cannabis corporations may have influenced New York Governor against Grow Your Own

  • Cannabis corporations are trying to influence recreational cannabis policies
  • NYMCIA want home cultivation of cannabis banned in New York State
  • Activists reject NYMCIA’s claims that they are anti-home cultivation on grounds of public safety and “fears” NY could lose out on taxes

Grow Your Own (GYO) is one of the most significant goals cannabis activists hope to achieve in their push for wider access to medical cannabis.

The policy allows patients to cultivate strains tailored for their specific medical condition, as well as reducing the overall costs of medical cannabis. GYO also enables patients with restricted mobility to access medical cannabis from their own home.

For cannabis customers in States with recreational access, GYO affords them the ability to massively reduce the cost of purchasing from often pricey dispensaries.

Large cannabis companies, however, clearly see GYO as a direct threat to their profits.

New evidence, revealed by Marijuana Moment, shows cannabis companies have tried to prevent GYO policies in New York State.

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo (D) has previously expressed a reluctance to introduce medical cannabis policies, last year claiming cannabis should remain illegal as it is a “gateway drug.

Cuomo is now advocating for legalisation, a move which took many activists in America by surprise.

The Governor’s sudden change in heart might be explained in the details of his proposed legalisation plan. The proposal would ultimately ban home cultivation on recreational cannabis.

Currently, the only State with recreational access to employ a ban on GYO is Washington State.

A month prior to Cuomo announcing the details of his plan to legalise recreational cannabis, New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association (NYMCIA), led by executives of the major licensed medical cannabis providers, sent Cuomo’s office a statement, offering “some thoughts on various issues associated with a transition from medical to adult-use.”

One of those thoughts centred on a desire to prevent consumers from growing their own cannabis.

A chapter in Cuomo’s cannabis proposal, titled “The Fallacy of Home Grow,” puts forward very specific arguments against allowing GYO.

While NYMCIA acknowledges that people desire GYO due to “currently high prices of medical marijuana,” or due to GYO being viewed as an “individual civil liberty,” they believe GYO “creates a significant public safety and black market risk.”

NYMCIA listed five main reasons why they oppose GYO:

1. Home grow will make it impossible for the state to eliminate the black market.

2. Home grow will make it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal products, thus frustrating enforcement efforts.

3. Home grow will undermine the state’s harm reduction goal of ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is grown without noxious pesticides or other contaminants.

4. Home grow will undermine the state’s public health interest in ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is tested, packaged, and and labeled correctly.

5. Home grow will cost the state tax revenue, thus hindering the state’s ability to fund priorities such as drug abuse treatment and community investment.

While there can be some valid concerns from NY State that it could potentially miss out on some tax by allowing GYO, it seems more likely that the greater concern for NYMCIA would be a loss in their profits.

Reacting to the NYMCIA’s reasons for opposing GYO, Erik Altieri, executive director of cannabis advocacy group NORML, said:

“From our perspective, it’s really hard to see any real reason—other than individual and corporate greed—to be against home cultivation at this point.

“There’s not a lot of rational concerns when it comes to allowing a limited amount of plants for an individual to grow at home.

“To advocate against home cultivation given all we know about how it works in practice from the industry side really just is kind of despicable and illustrates their greed, that they’re willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the slightest increase in their profits.”

“We need to make sure that we have a check on the potential greed of the industry that we can already see in these early stages based on this advocacy document.

“We need to make sure that the market in New York not only begins to address all the harms caused by the war on cannabis but also is oriented toward the consumer and not large industry interests.

“Banning home cultivation benefits no one but corporations and large industry groups.”

Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, also expressed concerns about NYMCIA’s claims, raising the very valid point that other states, who have allowed GYO, have not seen any of the dangers NYCMIA are apparently concerned about:

“It’s really disingenuous to try to say that it would not be possible to eliminate the illicit market if we allow for home grow.

“That certainly hasn’t been the experience of other states that allow home grow.”

Other major American cannabis industry groups, such as the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), have also argued against NYMCIA’s ‘fears’ about GYO.

Explaining why NICA oppose a ban on GYO, Morgan Fox, media relations director at the group, said to Marijuana Moment:

“NCIA does not oppose limited home cultivation.

“In fact, it can act as an incubator for people to develop skills which can be used in the legal cannabis industry, which benefits businesses as well as individuals looking to enter the market.

“Much like home brewing has helped spur interest the craft beer market, limited home cannabis cultivation can do the same in legal states.”

We need to make sure that we have a check on the potential greed of the industry that we can already see in these early stages based on this advocacy document.
– Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML

NYMCIA list several large cannabis companies as members, including Columbia Care, Etain, PharmaCann, The Botanist and Acreage NY, Vireo Health and MedMen.

Speaking to Marijuana Moment, Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann, explained that the document was NYMCIA’s “first go at formulating some broad policy positions,” prior to meeting with the governor’s office.

“Those policy points you have are sound, but our positions have evolved (and will continue to do so) as we’ve had a chance to socialize these concepts with other stakeholders.”

While Unruh and the rest of the NYMCIA board oppose GYO for recreational use, they do “support the Governor’s homegrown proposal,” which might allow for a GYO option for medical cannabis patients.

But ultimately, “Our position is this: We support the governor’s homegrow proposal,” he wrote in an email.

While recommending that lawmakers ban personal cultivation of recreational marijuana, Cuomo did include a home grow option for medical cannabis patients in his budget plan.

While New York State’s Governor, Cuomo, seems to be in the pocket of large corporations, NY’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has expressed his desire to curtail their influence over local cannabis policies:

“Legalization can follow two routes.

“In one, corporate cannabis rushes in and seizes a big, new market, driven by a single motive: greed.

“In another, New Yorkers build their own local cannabis industry, led by small businesses and organized to benefit our whole diverse community.”

It seems the only people NYMCIA are targeting are recreational customers (or medical cannabis patients without a prescription for a specific, recognised medical condition).

It is fairly obvious that the businesses which make up NYMCIA could potentially lose some of their profits if some of their customers are able to grow their own cannabis; recreational cannabis businesses are after all, essentially a middle-man enterprise.

But just like home brewing didn’t spell the end for the alcohol industry, GYO shouldn’t eliminate cannabis corporations from the cannabis industry.

Some people are not able to grow cannabis at home, either due to lack of skills, space or time.

There will still be a market for recreational users who want to purchase high-quality cannabis products. GYO merely offers more options to cannabis customers, which should never be scorned in a capitalist society.

It is quite obvious that NYMCIA’s affiliates have a financial stake in the shape of whatever marijuana law eventually emerges from the New York legislature.

Are members of NYMCIA genuinely concerned that GYO would maintain the black market, complicating the legalisation process? Or truly worried about the potential public health impact GYO could have? Or, is it more likely that businesses want a monopoly on the cannabis market?