As of the end of last Wednesday’s legislative session, New York was not successful in legalizing marijuana. For the past year, Governor Cuomo and other pro-cannabis lawmakers have pushed for marijuana legalization, with the hope of putting New York at the forefront of a $28 billion nationwide marijuana market. But lawmakers were unable to resolve disagreements over managing revenue and regulating the industry, resulting in the failure to pass the bill. 

Governor Cuomo proposed creating a state agency to oversee the industry and decide how to manage the revenue, effectively leaving the executive branch in control of the money. On the other hand, progressive lawmakers sought to reinvest marijuana revenue in the communities that were most affected by the war on drugs. Without the guarantee that their communities would be reinvested in, lawmakers refused to legalize. So what does that mean for the people of New York, and what does it mean for the restaurant industry in particular?

Effects of Unsuccessful Legalization on New Yorkers and New York Restaurateurs 

In terms of state-wide impact, failing to legalize marijuana has had different effects on different groups.  For pro-cannabis advocates, the decision came as a blow. Communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana-related laws for years, and many are disappointed that legislation has failed to put this to an end. Likewise, some view the failure as a missed opportunity to enter a multibillion-dollar industry. Meanwhile, anti-marijuana groups are celebrating the news of the bill’s failure. They see it as a victory against drug abuse and crime. 

In terms of restaurants specifically, the bill’s failure is both good and bad. In time, marijuana will almost certainly be legalized, so this is more of a postponement rather than a failure. The continued limitation of the use of marijuana products in restaurants negatively impacts you, as you need to continue to adhere to current regulations and laws and be careful with your use of cannabis-derived products. On the bright side though, the bill’s failure offers you another year of freedom from the impending labor crisis. 

Once marijuana is legalized, the search for labor will become exponentially more difficult. In states where marijuana is legal, like Colorado, the restaurant labor market is struggling. Dispensaries and grow centers tend to offer higher wages and full benefits, which, for many, is a more lucrative employment opportunity than many jobs available in restaurants. 

So What Now?

Although legalization failed to pass, legislators had a plan B: decriminalization. Decriminalization is not legalization, it simply reduces or eliminates criminal penalties (no arrest, prison time, or criminal record). The State Senate passed a new bill early on June 20, 2019, that treats marijuana-related offenses like a minor traffic violation and marijuana crimes will be expunged from criminal records. This type of legislation is not revolutionary, however, it has gotten praise as an important first step in the right direction.