The governor of New York announced on Tuesday that the state is launching a public education campaign ahead of the 4/20 holiday to encourage adults to buy their marijuana from licensed shops to ensure that products are safe and that revenue is used to advance equity and reinvestment goals.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said that the “Why Buy Legal New York” campaign is meant to “bolster the public health and safety of all New Yorkers, we are providing them with information they need to make informed decisions and enjoy cannabis responsibly.”
Educating people about the benefits of shopping at licensed storefronts is one thing, but as critics have routinely pointed out, the state’s current infrastructure for the adult-use market is lacking, with few regulated shops open for business and countless unregulated businesses meeting that demand for customers who might otherwise purchase from authorized retailers if more were operating.
In any case, the new campaign targets adults 21 and older with digital ads and education resources, including a guide on safe consumption practices, as well as graphics and videos featuring licensed cannabis business owners and messaging about the benefits of participating in the regulated market.
Hochul said that campaign is launching around the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 because it’s a time of increased awareness around cannabis issues.
“April 20, commonly known as 4/20, has become a global phenomenon that celebrates cannabis culture and its evolving legal landscape,” a press release says. “Initially a protest against cannabis criminalization and the unequal enforcement of drug laws, the day now also marks a victory for advocates who have fought tirelessly to end cannabis prohibition. As we approach this highly anticipated day, it is crucial to reinforce health and safety messages and remind New Yorkers to consume cannabis responsibly.”
New York has faced criticism over the rollout of its adult-use market, with just a handful of retailers currently licensed to sell marijuana amid a sea of unlicensed storefronts that regulators are working to stamp out.
The state has taken several steps to bring stores online more quickly, but there are limited points of access as regulators and the administration work to prioritize standing up businesses owned by people who have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
“We are excited to launch this campaign to promote safe and legal purchases of cannabis in New York,” Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board (CCB), said. “By supporting licensed dispensaries, consumers can be confident that they are getting safe and accurately labeled products while supporting their local communities.”
Regulators also recently released a how-to guide on reading receipts from marijuana dispensaries that details how tax revenue from their purchases is allocated to state and local governments and community reinvestment programs.
Hochul emphasized that supporting community reinvestment through cannabis taxes is one key reason that New Yorkers should seek out licensed shops—even if their options are limited in the existing market.
Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), said that the state wants to “make sure that New Yorkers are informed about the potential risks and benefits of using cannabis.”
“Our goal is to empower consumers to make informed decisions and to ensure they have access to the safest products available,” he said. “New York has some incredible dispensaries across the state, and I encourage cannabis consumers and the canna-curious to visit these shops and see for themselves.”
The New York effort is similar to a “Buy Legal” campaign that major cannabis companies launched last year in partnership with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) administration. That effort, which involves firms like Cresco Labs and PAX, aims to educate consumers about the risks of buying marijuana products outside of regulated markets.
New Jersey regulators have been among those to question New York’s rollout strategy. The governor of Connecticut said that he thought it was “crazy” that the Empire State started with just one retailer when it launched its program.
New York regulators did announce last month that they are doubling the number of conditional adult-use marijuana licenses that can be approved, from 150 to 300, after receiving feedback from certain applicants that they would be able to more expeditiously open storefronts without additional support through a state program designed to help eligible entities create physical locations.
The state has placed an emphasis on its role in promoting public education about the legalization law.
For example, a taxpayer-funded marijuana PSA aired in most of New York during an NBA Finals game last year, boldly addressing the racially discriminatory harms of cannabis criminalization and highlighting steps that state regulators are taking to right the wrongs of prohibition.
Regulators have also explored the possibility of showcasing its marijuana PSA campaign on the social media app TikTok, but it was told by the company previously that it could not use the platform because of its ban on the use of the word “cannabis.” The department then sent a letter to TikTok, requesting a policy change for government marijuana-related ads that concern public education.
Meanwhile, Hochul also recently introduced legislation to increase enforcement authority to crack down on illicit marijuana retailers as the state struggles to stand up the regulated adult-use market.
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The governor visited one of the handful of currently operating cannabis retailers in February, though she didn’t buy anything, even as she signaled openness to trying marijuana in the future.
In December, Hochul separately unveiled a marijuana business and product verification tool, with plans to post a QR code on licensed cannabis retailers and a universal symbol label for authorized cannabis products.
She also signed a bill in late November aimed at expanding the state’s hemp market by promoting collaborative partnerships to identify more opportunities to utilize the crop and its derivatives for packaging, construction and other purposes.
Meanwhile, New York lawmakers approved a bill last month that would require public health insurance providers in the state to include medical marijuana as a covered prescription drug and authorize private insurers to do the same.
Far more New Yorkers believe that consuming alcohol is a serious public health problem compared to the minority who feel the same about marijuana, according to a recent survey conducted by state officials.
There’s also majority support for the state’s adult-use cannabis law, and a plurality of New Yorkers additionally favor having marijuana retailers open up in their communities.
Additionally, New York lawmakers recently filed legislation for this year’s session to legalize certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older. Separate legislation would also broadly decriminalize drug possession.
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