A New York senator introduced a bill that would allow gay, lesbian and bisexual people to qualify as social equity applicants for marijuana business licenses.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) also filed a separate measure the week before that would allow people who identify as transgender or non-binary to participate in New York’s marijuana social equity program.

“I am proud to introduce legislation to include members of our lesbian, gay and bisexual community for priority licensure in the new adult-use recreational cannabis market,” the senator said. “When New York State legalized adult-use recreational marijuana we made a commitment to addressing the discrimination and injustice caused by the War on Drugs.”

“Social justice and social equity are embedded throughout the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) and the legislation is designed to uplift historically marginalized groups through economic opportunities in the cannabis industry,” Cooney added. “We are committed to working to ensure we are meeting our equity licensing goals so that New York creates the most inclusive cannabis economy in the nation.”

New York legalized adult-use cannabis in March, so adults can now legally possess marijuana and consume it in public wherever tobacco smoking is permitted. State cannabis regulators are currently establishing the rules and regulations that will govern retail sales, which are expected to start next year.

Under New York’s marijuana legalization law, at least 50 percent of cannabis business licenses must be awarded to social equity applicants. So far, this includes people “from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition, minority- and women-owned businesses, distressed farmers and service-disabled veterans.”

Cooney believes the discrimination faced by people on the basis of sexual or gender orientation means they should also have the opportunity to benefit from a legal cannabis industry.

“This state has recognized that discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation is a violation of human rights law,” the preamble to the bill states. “The social equity aspect of the MRTA is meant to uplift historically marginalized groups through economic opportunities in the cannabis industry and this bill furthers that effort.”

The proposed legislation is now with the Senate Rules Committee for review.

Cooney is also behind recently introduced legislation that would allow licensed marijuana businesses to deduct certain operational business expenses from their state tax returns. This would represent a move away from federal cannabis tax policy, under IRS Code 280E, which prohibits such deductions.

Following former-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, his replacement, Gov. Kathy Hochul, said implementing a retail cannabis market in New York was a priority for her administration. To that end, she quickly appointed members to the state’s cannabis regulatory bodies, with New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CC) recently holding its first meeting on implementing a legal cannabis market.

Since then, New York’s cannabis regulators have finalized the rules for the state’s cannabinoid hemp program, but decided to prohibit sales of delta-8 THC.

Meanwhile, New York’s State Department of Labor released new rules prohibiting employers from testing employees for marijuana use, unless one of three possible exemptions is met.

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