Judge: NY Can’t Discriminate in Retail Pot Licensing…Sometimes


The current state of legalized marijuana in the U.S. leaves plenty of room for legal, ethical, and practical conflicts. Sometimes those conflicts end up creating scenarios that are almost laughable. You know the old saying ‘you can’t make this stuff up’. It certainly applies to a recent ruling out of New York State.

An NY federal judge temporarily put the brakes on state plan to issue retail pot licenses after a lawsuit was filed by a Michigan company wanting to get its foot in the door in the Empire State. The judge effectively ruled that NY cannot discriminate in their retail licensing scheme. What makes the ruling laughable is that it only applies to five areas of upstate New York. The rest of the state is off the hook. So that means it is sometimes acceptable to discriminate.

Tying Marijuana to Social Justice

Both the lawsuit and the federal ruling are the direct result of trying to link legalized marijuana with social justice. Under NY’s licensing scheme, only entrepreneurs who have been convicted of a marijuana crime are eligible. The one exception is an entrepreneur who, though he hasn’t been convicted himself, is related to someone who has.

This alone is discriminatory in nature. But that is not what triggered the lawsuit. No, the lawsuit came from a Michigan business owner who wanted a New York retail license despite not being convicted of a marijuana crime in the state. He was convicted in Michigan, but that is not good enough to satisfy NY regulations.

It would appear that it’s not okay for NY to discriminate against the Michigan convict but it is okay to discriminate against people who have never been convicted of marijuana crimes. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

The thinking behind this nonsense is that people with past marijuana convictions deserve both the opportunity to start pot businesses and a generous portion of state money to do so. In essence, it’s the legal marijuana equivalent of reparations.

Marijuana Used to Be Illegal

Regardless of how you feel about state-legal marijuana, the fact remains that it used to be illegal in New York. So now the state is turning around and rewarding people who knowingly broke the law while discriminating against others who did not. How is that ethically or morally acceptable?

If society believes that the past war on marijuana was immoral and indefensible, fine. There are ways to make amends for past marijuana convictions without punishing people who have spent their lives trying to uphold the law.

Social Justice Not the Norm, Yet

For now, the idea of tying state legal marijuana to social justice isn’t nationwide. There are still places, like Utah, where regulators are not trying to reward people with past marijuana convictions in hopes of cleansing their consciences. But for how long?

Utahmarijuana.org is a Beehive State organization operated by a company that provides medical services to patients looking to obtain their medical marijuana cards. The people behind the organization say that Utah’s medical cannabis law is fairly conservative. It looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

However, there are no guarantees. Few people thought that Utah would ever approve medical cannabis given its highly conservative political bent. But voters did just that in 2018. It could be that the social justice movement will eventually make it to Utah.

In the meantime, a federal judge in NY says the state can sometimes discriminate against entrepreneurs with clean criminal records. Outside of the five areas covered by the ruling, the rest of New York is open to licensing discrimination.

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