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New York Bill Adds Transgender Community to Social Equity Program

A New York lawmaker has proposed legislation that would extend the benefits of the state’s cannabis social equity program to members of the transgender and nonbinary communities. 

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) passed by New York lawmakers in March includes social and economic equity provisions designed to give licensing priority for the state’s upcoming adult-use cannabis market to members of communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and other marginalized and under-represented groups. 

The legislation does not specifically mention transgender or nonbinary individuals, guidelines that unintentionally force such individuals to choose “between their gender identity and receiving priority for a license,” according to a bill introduced recently by Democratic New York state Senator Jeremy Cooney. To be eligible for economic and social equity benefits, someone who is not a woman or transgender would need to change their gender.

“The MRTA was crafted with a focus on equity at all stages of implementation in the new recreational adult-use cannabis market. I am proud to sponsor legislation that will build upon that foundation to include members of the transgender and nonbinary communities,” Cooney said in a press release. “No New Yorker should have to choose between their identity and economic opportunity. I look forward to creating a more inclusive new cannabis market for members of the LGTBQ+ community.”

Under Cooney’s proposal, Senate Bill 7157, the MRTA would be amended to explicitly include transgender and nonbinary persons in the provisions extending licensing priority. The legislation defines a transgender or binary person as “any person who has a gender identity or expression different from the sex assigned to that individual at birth.”

“This legislation would help to prevent New Yorkers who are transgender or nonbinary from being denied this economic opportunity because they live as their authentic selves. In addition, it recognizes that these New Yorkers suffer financially due to social and systemic bias, and that steps must be taken to mitigate that harm,” Kevin Barry, president of the Greater Rochester LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, said of Cooney’s bill. “While there is a long way to go, this bill is a well thought step toward equity for persons who are transgender or nonbinary. It is critical that lawmakers consider this part of their constituency whenever they create or vote on legislation.”

Advocates Back the Proposal

Rachel Leavy, the owner of Infused Events Rochester, applauded the bill from Cooney, who has been a vocal supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana and protecting the other-than-heterosexual community.

“As an activist in both the cannabis and LGBTQIA+ worlds, I’m thrilled to see legislation intersecting both,” Leavy said. “If this bill passes, I will have the chance to participate in the cannabis industry and carve out a space for the queer community, providing safe access to cannabis, career opportunities, and continued outreach. This bill is just the start of something much larger to address the long-overdue representation of trans and nonbinary folks like myself.”

Amanda Babine, executive director of the social and political advocacy group Equality New York, said that the organization “was proud to support the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.” 

“Since the passage, we have focused on ways we can ensure the rollout of this legislation is truly equitable,” Babine added. “We commend Senator Cooney for introducing legislation that will ensure the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, & Non-Binary (TGNCNB) community be included in the social and economic equity plan. EQNY was proud to endorse such a strong ally like Senator Cooney.”

Cooney presented S. 7517 to the New York Senate in November 12, and it has been sent to the Senate Rules Committee. The legislation’s co-sponsor is Senator Alessandra Biaggi (also a Democrat). If it passes the legislature and is signed into law in New York by Kathy Hochul, then the measure will go into effect immediately.