It was a festive and historic day in New York's Union Square Park on May 1 as elected officials and cannabis activists celebrated legalization, one month after the New York law was passed and signed, at the NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led the parade of public officals who spoke from the podium on a clear blue-sky afternoon. "I want to say to all of you I am thrilled to be with you today at this great gathering, which I know has been a long time in coming," he began. "I want to do two things here: first, celebrate the just, equitable legalization we have accomplished together in New York. And second, to tell you about the fight that I'm leading to legalize marijuana nationally in all 50 states."
Read Schumer's full speech below.
New York Attorney General Letitia James was also in attendance. "We all know that the War on Drugs for far too long has been a war on poor people and people of color, right?" she opened. "I have long advocated for adult recreational use of cannabis because I believe it is a social, a racial and a criminal justice issue."
Read James' full speech below.
New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney stated: "I’m here today to stand up against the overcriminalization of cannabis and to demand that Congress finally takes action. We need to get rid of these antiquated cannabis laws that have harmed our communities."
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi echoed Maloney's comments: "This is about social equity, it’s about racial equity and it’s about damn time that we legalized marijuana in the City and the State of New York."
Assembly member Emily Gallagher added: "Prohibition was never about stopping marijuana use. It’s about selectively enforcing laws to criminalize and control Black and brown people. At least with this one widely used and widely enjoyed plant we’re putting an end to it. We might consider doing the same with all other drugs too."
State Senator Jessica Ramos insisted on fairness in the implementation of the new law: "We need to make sure we’re all involved. We want our licenses to go to Black and brown people. We want the licenses to go to worker cooperatives. We want money to pay for our communities and not for big businesses and not for the banks."
State Senator Brian A. Benjamin bragged that he was "the person who actually signed recreational marijuana in the Senate into law."
Among the activists present was Steve DeAngelo, a former Yippie and co-founder of Harborside Health Center in Califiornia, who reminisced about attending the parade in 1975 when he was 17. "We did not legalize this plant to make a bunch of people richer," he noted. "We legalized it to help us change the world."
Women Grow's Tanya Osborne said she first marched in the parade that precedes the rally in 1991. "What I’m really excited about is out community of entrepreneurial women who want to have a place in this industry," she explained. " And now we have opportunities."
Opportunities must extend to those who've toiled in lthe egacy or black market during prohibition, said Grizzly Bocourt: "We have perfected the hustle and it’s time for us to understand the business side of it."
Happy Munkey's Vlad Bautista pointed out: "We’ve been in the cannabis legacy market for 22 years. Four years ago, we started a brand. You guys supported us creating safe spaces where we can consume this plant. Here we are today consuming it legally."
Floyd Jarvis added: "All of us have been doing this for the past 90 years. We have the model, we have perfected the market. Now with state intervention and state funds we should be doing a lot better. So, let’s focus on the black market."
Many agreed with Landon Dais when he said: "This is just the beginning. The hard work starts now."
Senator Schumer's Speech
I want to say to all of you I am thrilled to be with you today at this great gathering, which I know has been a long time in coming.
Let’s have a thank you to Steve Bloom.
I want to do two things here: First, celebrate the just, equitable legalization we have accomplished together in New York. And second, to tell you about the fight that I am leading to legalize marijuana nationally in all 50 states.
We’re all here because we know we have to move past the failed model of the War on Drugs. For decades, this has been horrible. Young men and young women, disproportionately people of color, have been jailed for even carrying small amounts of marijuana, a charge that came with exorbitant punitive penalties, a serious criminal record and so many of them could never recover from that. We can never let that happen again.
These were young men and young women with dreams of their own, with promise and potential, who had their lives ruined simply because they happened to have a joint in their pocket. This overcriminalization of marijuana hurt individuals, but it hurt entire communities. Change has been urgently needed for so long.
And that is why I stand with you, with the organizers like Senator Ramos and Senator Biaggi and many others. And Tish James. (Aside) Am I leaving any legislators out? And Harvey Epstein and Carolyn Maloney. I joined all of them and told the State, “Get off your butt and pass MRTA now!” Guess what? We did it. I pushed for the MRTA because I knew that legalizing marijuana itself is not enough. [Note: MRTA stands for the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act.]
We need investment in communities harmed by the War on Drugs. We need social equity and licensing of entrepreneurs and we need the expungement of records once and for all.
We need to start repairing the harms the War on Drugs has done to New Yorkers and with a huge coalition we did just that. We raised our voices. We made it possible for the MRTA to become law.
So, I want to say it was an honor to work with some of my friends who I’ve known for years in the legislature. Someone who helped me get elected to the Senate when she was just a Council member in Buffalo and now the [Assembly] Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes. And Liz Krueger from I guess this district. And Diane Savino from the great borough of Staten Island. And organizers like Kassandra Frederique – is she here? We love her. She is a dynamo. She is incredible. And, of course, here in New York – Melissa Moore, who led the charge. Is she here? They’re great. And, of course, Vocal-NY, who relentlessly worked when things got tough. What did they do? Did they give up? Did they throw up their hands and say, “We’re not going to get this done?” No. They doubled down, put their heads down, made sacrifices in their personal lives, missed time with friends and family, spent hours and hours in frustrating meetings and got it done. Those at the state level who led the charge, many of whom are out here – you inspire me!
Let me just say I am so happy we got this over the finish line. I’m so happy.
Legalization in New York is the most ambitious in the country. In the critical areas of racial and economic justice, it sets new standards. It makes real and tangible impact on the lives of millions. So, let’s take a moment and celebrate what we have already accomplished.
All across the state, from Buffalo to Brooklyn, communities devastated by the War on Drugs are beginning to be renewed, repaired and made whole again. Young people are able to celebrate today without a fear that a little bit of marijuana in their pocket could ruin their lives. More freedom, less fear.
Right now, somewhere in this city, hopeful entrepreneurs are gathering together, thinking up a future marijuana business that will provide jobs for New Yorkers and tax dollars to harmed communities.
For thousands of New Yorkers with marijuana arrests on their records, the step we have taken will provide a new lease on life.
So, I want to hear a big, long New York round of applause for every single organizer who pushed this through!
"All across the state, from Buffalo to Brooklyn, communities devastated by the War on Drugs are beginning to be renewed, repaired and made whole again. Young people are able to celebrate today without a fear that a little bit of marijuana in their pocket could ruin their lives."
Now, we’re going to transfer that energy to Washington. And I want to tell you: Today, we’re working on the focus of bringing racial and economic justice you brought to the MRTA to the federal level.
I was the first Congressional leader of any party to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. And I am proud of that. And, right now, with my colleagues Senator Booker and Senator Wyden, we’re going to put forward an advanced, comprehensive cannabis-reform legislation which will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory and often bigoted policies.
We’ve got support across the county. Did you hear about South Dakota? Hardly a liberal bastion. They voted to legalize in November. So, this is happening across the country.
We’re going to get bipartisan support for our legislation. And we’ve got to do it the right way. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in communities of color, provide opportunities for folks who have been hit hard by the prohibition. All the old arguments and fearmongering that crime would go up, that there would be a parade of horrible things hasn’t happened.
Justice Brandeis called the states the “laboratories of democracy.” And on marijuana they have served just that role. We have taken legalization to the laboratories of democracy. We did the experiments and the results are in.
What we have accomplished in New York is just the beginning. I will fight with you until we have fair, just and full legalization in Washington.
Thank you, everyone.
Attorney General Letitia James' Speech
We all know that the War on Drugs for far too long has been a war on poor people and people of color, right? I have long advocated for adult recreational use of cannabis because I believe it is a social, a racial and a criminal justice issue.
In many states all across this country, recreational use has been legalized and arrests have plummeted by a large percentage.
Simple legalization is not enough to right those wrongs. We cannot assume that changing the law to legalize cannabis will be enough to deliver the justice and opportunity that we hope it will bring. It’s a good start, but we need more.
Recreational cannabis means more money for our state. Because this is a state that believes in equality, justice and equity, we’ve got to provide opportunities for everyone. And particularly people who’ve been locked out of the sunshine of opportunity for far too long. It’s important that we focus on communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs.
"In many states all across this country, recreational use has been legalized and arrests have plummeted by a large percentage."
New York has indeed come a long way. We used to be the marijuana arrest capital of the world. Boo!!
If you believe in justice like I do, then those individuals that are most harmed by the War on Drugs must be part of the new economy. We must provide access to everyone, especially for communities of color that have felt the impact of law enforcement in this country and in this city and in this state.
So, I hope that you’ll join me. I hope that when we begin the discussion about this legislation, when we pass regulations, that everyone is at the table of power.
We have to work together. We’ve got to be change agents in our communities. Lift up all boats and leave no boat behind. Let us all stand together. Create opportunities and focus on justice and make this legislation an opportunity for equalizing all individuals.
I look forward to working with all of you. It’s about upward economic mobility and opportunity for all communities.
Thank you so much.