After Democrats reclaimed the New York state house in this November’s elections, the prospect of cannabis legalization in the Empire State suddenly became less of a question of if than when. Any lingering doubts were erased earlier this month when Governor Cuomo announced that creating an adult-use market will be one of his top priorities in 2019.
A few weeks after the election, but before Cuomo put his stamp of approval on cannabis New York City’s nascent cannabis media community — joined by some esteemed out-of-town guests — gathered in the sunny Manhattan office of canna-friendly law firm Duane Morris for the inaugural New York Cannabis Media Summit. Although, sure, there’s inevitability something annoyingly meta about the media covering a media convention, the event, albeit informally, helped establish some of the standards and norms that New York cannabis media will employ to ensure responsibility as New York comes online.
The event was organized by Mannada, a local events production company with an emphasis on cannabis. As Mannada founder Kristin Jordan told Cannabis Now, the event’s success necessitated a commitment to diversity and inclusion. “My main goal for the Cannabis Media Summit was to create an intimate space for media professionals from all over the country to connect and share best practices to further an inclusive and educated industry,” she explained.
Jordan’s message is particularly timely: Just before the event, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report highlighting the stark racial disparity in cannabis arrests in the city. Stringer notes, among other appalling statistics, that arrests of Black and Latinx individuals comprise nearly 90 percent of all marijuana arrests in the city.
Diversity was a common theme throughout the day-long summit, which took place in a conference room high above Times Square, with giant video ads on neighboring skyscrapers flashing through the windows. Edmund DeVeaux, of New Jersey consulting firm Burton Trent, spoke about being literally the only African-American cannabis lawyer in his state. Cynthia Salarizadeh, managing partner of KCSA Media and co-founder of Green Market Media, addressed the ways in which cannabis media changes. “Coverage evolves…today it covers what really matters: social justice,” she said. But, perhaps ironically, Salarizadeh represents Acreage Holdings — where former GOP House leader and anti-cannabis legislator John Boehner now sits on the board.
The event’s emotional climax was a surprise appearance by Rylie Maedlar, a 13-year-old advocate who used medical cannabis to combat seizures and tumors in her face, and who subsequently succeeded in persuading Delaware lawmakers to ease regulations around kids’ access to medical cannabis. It was Maedler’s birthday, and the whole group donned party hats to sing “Happy Birthday.”Praising Rylie later in the day, High Times Chief Revenue Officer Matt Stang argued that “You can’t say no [to someone who needs cannabis].” He also asserted that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a “monster” for disagreeing with him. The problem is that, yes, you can. Much of the mainstream media along with tons of state and municipal governments, not to mention the feds, all continue to say no. Stang’s comment shed some light on one of the biggest hurdles facing cannabis media around the country: You can’t assume that the science is enough to persuade the skeptics.
New York cannabis media will likely soon face the opportunity to introduce cannabis to an enormous new audience. If nothing else, the Cannabis Media Summit was a succinct reminder that doing so carries responsibility.
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