The mayor of New York City says he’s looking into the idea of authorizing marijuana to be grown in greenhouses on the rooftops of public housing buildings—an ambitious proposal that’s unlikely to sit well with the federal government, which provides funding to support the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA).
Mayor Eric Adams (D) discussed his vision for city-sanctioned cannabis gardens on NYCHA properties at a conference event organized by the New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislators (NYSABPRHAL) on Saturday.
It’s unclear what prompted the remarks, but WNYC and Gothamist reporter Jon Campbell quoted the mayor as saying that his administration wants to “explore the possibility of having greenhouse space on NYCHA rooftops for” marijuana cultivation as the state prepares to launch its adult-use market.
“We want to explore the possibility of having greenhouse space on NYCHA rooftops for” cannabis growing, Mayor Adams says.
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellNY) April 9, 2022
A deputy press secretary in Adams’s office did not dispute the quote when contacted by Marijuana Moment, but referred questions to NYSABPRHAL and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who moderated the panel. Representatives for the association and the majority leader did not immediately respond.
Peoples-Stokes championed the state’s legalization legislation that was signed into law last year and recently launched an equity-focused political action committee that will work to support pro-reform candidates.
Melissa Moore, director of civil systems reform at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Marijuana Moment that it’s worth exploring bold ideas when it comes to cannabis.
“This is the moment when we need New York City and other municipalities across the state to be as forward-thinking as possible about how to support the implementation of [the marijuana legalization law], especially the social equity provisions that have made NY’s legalization a national model,” she said.
The full audio or video of the mayor’s remarks don’t appear to be publicly available at this point, so it’s possible there was additional context on the publicly assisted housing greenhouse proposal. But if Adams is serious about pursuing the cultivation plan, he may well find himself running up against the federal government.
While the feds have generally taken a hands-off approach to state and local marijuana policies—and President Joe Biden has pledged not to interfere in those reforms—it could be a different story if New York City starts using federally backed public housing property as a place to produce a Schedule I drug like marijuana.
According to NYCHA, the city agency “generally receives about $1 billion in operating subsidies annually from the federal government.” Putting marijuana plants on the tops of those buildings while cannabis remains federally prohibited could potentially jeopardize those dollars.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stands out as an especially anti-cannabis agency, too.
For example, the department said last year that it is required to continue denying federally assisted housing to people who use marijuana, even if they’re acting in compliance with state law.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter to HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge last year imploring the department to use executive discretion and not punish people over cannabis in legal states. But HUD’s response was clear: It said that “consistent with federal law, HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana.”
A former Trump-appointed HUD official with the department’s regional official overseeing New York and New Jersey did say in 2018 that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing—but nothing apparently came from that.
Residency policy for assisted housing as it relates to marijuana remains an ongoing problem, but the mayor’s proposal on rooftop cultivation raises its own set of unique legal questions. Marijuana Moment also reached out to NYCHA, but a representative directed the request for comment to the mayor’s office.
While HUD might not be willing to exercise discretion when it comes to federal marijuana prohibition, it should be noted that the Justice Department has so far declined to take enforcement action against New York City after it authorized the launch of the nation’s first safe consumption sites where people can use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive treatment resources.
That’s in spite of the fact that DOJ under the Trump administration filed a lawsuit blocking a Philadelphia non-profit from opening such a facility based on an interpretation of federal statute prohibiting such services. That case is ongoing.
In any case, Adams’s interest in exploring putting cannabis greenhouses on NYCHA rooftops comes as regulators and lawmakers continue to work toward implementing the state’s adult-use market.
Most recently, the legislature sent a budget proposal to the governor’s desk over the weekend that includes provisions to let marijuana businesses take state tax deductions that are available to other industries despite an ongoing federal ban on cannabis.
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Regulators separately advanced a rule last month to make it so people with prior marijuana convictions, or whose family members have been harmed by criminalization, will get the first round of adult-use marijuana retailer licenses—ahead of existing medical cannabis businesses. A recent poll found that most New Yorkers voters are against that proposal.
DPA’s Moore said that these state actions are important, “but we need local action too.”
“It wasn’t just state troopers making marijuana arrests for decades—the NYPD led the marijuana arrest crusade and that means New York City needs to lead on repairing the harms by leveraging city resources in support of social equity at this crucial time,” she said.
The state has also taken separate steps to get the industry in a position to have products available by creating provisional marijuana cultivator and processor licenses for existing hemp businesses that take certain steps to promote equity in the emerging industry. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed that legislation in February.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess and publicly consume cannabis, as well as gift marijuana to other adults as long as they aren’t being compensated. But regulators are still finalizing licensing rules, and there are currently no retailers that are authorized to sell cannabis for adult use in the state.
Hochul has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.
The governor released a State of the State book in January that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market. That funding, called the “New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Program,” is the last component of the Seeding Opportunity Initiative.
Hochul said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”
That proposal was also cited in the governor’s executive budget, which was released in January. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
Enacting legislation that expedites licensing could help the state reduce the number of businesses that are effectively using the legal “gifting” provision of the state’s marijuana law to give away cannabis for “free” if a non-marijuana-related purchase is made.
New York regulators recently issued warnings to more than two dozen businesses that they allege are either illegally selling marijuana without a license or exploiting the “gifting” component.
Here are some other ways that New York lawmakers and regulators are working to build upon the legalization law as the state prepares to implement retail sales:
Just this week, a New York senator filed a bill that would allow regulators to disclose certain information about cannabis licensees to financial institutions—a step meant to provide banks with additional transparency that could encourage marijuana banking.
In February, another state senator filed a bill that would promote recycling in the marijuana industry once retail sales officially launch.
Sen. Michelle Hinchey (D) is also sponsoring that legislation, which would require cannabis shops to apply a $1 deposit for any marijuana products sold in single-use plastic containers and also reimburse consumers for that fee if they return the container.
The senator is also behind a separate bill filed last year that would prioritize hemp-based packaging over synthetic plastics for marijuana products.
The recycling bill is identical to an Assembly version filed by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D) last year.
The state Department of Labor separately announced in recent guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.
Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Another state legislator filed legislation in December to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes and establish facilities where the psychedelic could be grown and administered to patients.
Meanwhile, as New York prepares the launch of its adult-use marijuana market, OCM announced a significant expansion of the existing medical cannabis program.
Now doctors will be able to issue medical marijuana recommendations to people for any condition that they feel could be treated by cannabis, rather than rely on a list of specific eligible maladies.