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NY’s Weedfellas: Lobbyists, Labor Unions and the Greasy Underworld of Medical Marijuana

Mike Adams

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There is bound to be some cutthroat dealings and, perhaps, even a few unfortunate souls found slumped over the steering wheel before the business end of New York’s medical marijuana program is hashed out this year. A recent report published by Capital indicates that hundreds of companies are likely to apply to become one of only five licensed cannabis cultivators for the state. Of course, this lottery of sorts has driven a pack of well-dressed wolves—commonly referred to as lobbyist—into the streets with suitcases full of bribes and an unwavering agenda dangling between their gnashing teeth.

Medical marijuana is predicted to become the next cash crop of New York, once the state launches its program at the beginning of 2016. And with only a few opportunities available to get in on the action, not to mention the large minimal cost to apply for a license, experts say this has spawned an insurgence of pot lobbyists, prowling on behalf of their respective organizations, in hopes of greasing the wheels well enough to secure one of the bids. Some have gone so far as to deem this phenomenon the “Lobbyist Employment Act of 2015,” which is to imply the bloodthirsty nature of the beast.

“This is not just a traditional lobbying approach. Teams are going to have to be put together,” said Patrick McCarthy, a lobbyist who works with the medical marijuana firm KannaLife Science. “You really have to know what part of the state is potentially going to be more receptive. You have to know local politics.”

Unlike other medical marijuana states, New York has mandated all dispensaries and cultivation operations employ the use of union labor. This has led to dozens of companies serious about securing a medical marijuana license to give the old dog and pony routine to union leaders in hopes that they will help seal the deal.

Reports show that Park Strategies, a lobbying firm operated by former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato, has already been hired by some of the industry’s more lucrative prospects to increase their chances of growing medical marijuana in New York. Interestingly, Senator D’Amato was once a member of the marijuana opposition, but his opinion surprisingly changed last year after signing a $15,000 a month lobbying deal with players from the recreational marijuana industry. Shortly after signing the deal, D’Amato published an op-ed piece in The Long Island Herald, stating that “times are changing and marijuana has become a viable form of alternative medicine.”

Records indicate that companies desperate to become part of New York’s medical marijuana market have entered into lobbying deals ranging from $2,000 to $25,000 per month in hopes of winning a license. With that type of cash coming into play, as well as the program’s unique involvement with the labor unions, the situation has the potential to become the next brutal storyline in a Martin Scorsese film.

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