This is part of our One Issue Explainer series, where we break down where mayoral candidates stand on issues concerning New Yorkers. What do you want to hear about? Email us at (subject line: One Issue Explainer)

On Wednesday, New York became the 15th state to legalize marijuana, and our next mayor will help shape the future of cannabis in the city. While marijuana laws are written by the state legislature, the city's mayor still wields immense power over how those laws are enforced, because they control the NYPD.

Marijuana possession was the number one cause of arrest in the city in 2010, during Mayor Micheal Bloomberg’s administration. Over his three terms, the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for pot, and the vast majority of those arrested were people of color. While Mayor Bill de Blasio helped to drastically reduce the number of marijuana arrests the NYPD made over his eight years in office, the racial disparities persisted.

In 2020, there were only 437 marijuana-related arrests in the city; 93% of those people arrested were Black or Latino, even though white residents make up a little less than 45% of the city’s population and marijuana use tends to be equal among racial groups.

In addition to setting the tone for enforcement, the next mayor will also determine how millions of dollars of new local tax revenue from the cannabis industry will be spent. The state projects the first year of legalized weed to bring in $350 million, while localities have the opportunity to levy a 4% sales tax on cannabis, split between the county and the city.

“There are a lot of opportunities for the next mayor of NYC to be really intentional about how the city will marshall resources in order to support social equity applicants within the industry especially for small businesses and worker cooperatives,” said Melissa Moore, the state director of the NY’s Drug Policy Alliance, who worked to pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

While licensing for dispensaries and “consumption sites” will be done through the state’s not-yet-created Office of Cannabis Management, the mayor and city council will control the time, place, manner, and zoning of where businesses can be located and operate, according to Moore.

Anticipating future licensing hurdles for individuals and businesses will also be on the mayor’s agenda.

“The next mayor can really take on that challenge and try to be creative and innovative in terms of really building out additional support at the city level,” Moore said, noting that the mayor could create an advisory committee which would provide additional assistance.

New Yorkers are using marijuana more than ever, according to a report by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which found 1.1 million city residents used marijuana at least once in 2015-2016. The report found white residents accounted for about a quarter of marijuana users, compared to 14% of Black and 12% of Latino New Yorkers.

The eight Democratic mayoral candidates fully back the legalization and the expungement of past convictions, and agree that the industry’s tax revenue would benefit the city. But when it comes to the city creating its local cannabis industry, the distribution of jobs and tax revenue, and educating the public on marijuana safety, their proposals and ideas vary.


Donavan says the cannabis industry could be an excellent source of revenue for the city. Portions of that revenue should be set aside for restorative justice, public transit improvements, and used to support capital expenditures, according to Donavan. (The candidate did not provide any specific figures or percentages.)

As for restorative justice, Black and brown New Yorkers, as well as minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE), should be included and provided good-paying union jobs if the city creates a local industry, he says.

Donovan plans on creating the city’s first Chief Equity Office, whose leader will directly report and work with him to ensure equity throughout the city, including marijuana-related decisions.

Donavan also said he is a fan of California’s Social Equity Program, which allocates $30 million in funding to cannabis entrepreneurs from communities impacted by the drug war and is open to policies like it. “Whichever way our city decides to move forward, we must do so in a way that is equitable and just,” Donavan told Gothamist/WNYC.

His administration would develop culturally component and multilingual education campaigns to inform city residents on marijuana safety. Donavan also plans on using his 15 minute neighborhoods plan, which will connect New Yorkers to health care services, as a way to further educate people.

And a question we asked all the candidates: It's 2022, and you are the mayor. An NYPD officer walks through a park and sees a group of young adults sitting a few yards away, smoking marijuana. What should happen next?

“The officer smiles and gets back to his job of investigating and preventing serious violent crimes and keeping guns off our streets,” Donovan replied.


Garcia said that marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and that she sees legalization as an opportunity to right past wrongs and meet community needs. “We should not keep marijuana in the criminal code, and should not impose harsher new penalties on New Yorkers who violate legalized marijuana rules,” she told Gothamist/WNYC.

Reparations to the Black and brown communities impacted by marijuana is a priority for Garcia. A targeted focus will be around structuring licenses for Black and Latino entrepreneurs to partake and succeed in the industry. Garcia says she will create opportunities for economic mobility for justice-involved individuals.

Her administration will use marijuana arrests data and find communities adversely impacted by cannabis and invest in them through generated funds, although she did not specify any amounts. Garcia will use the industry’s tax revenue to create new anti-violence programs and fund existing ones like cure violence.

In regards to educating the public on marijuana safety, Garcia would create citywide programs and materials in collaboration with medical experts, DOHMH, universities, community centers, and trusted leaders and organizations as well as make all information language accessible.

It's 2022, and you are the mayor. An NYPD officer walks through a park and sees a group of young adults sitting a few yards away, smoking marijuana. What should happen next?

“The City has made strides in making sure that public spaces are preserved for all by eliminating cigarette use in parks and beaches—it’s an environmentally sound policy that keeps the ground clear of cigarette butts!” Garcia said. “Smoking in parks would not be a priority for NYPD enforcement under my administration.”


McGuire says the state must give the city the ability to apply local tax on marijuana when it is legalized, and ensure state tax revenue is reinvested into the city. (The MRTA states that the sale of marijuana will be accompanied by a nine percent state tax, three percent local tax, and one percent county tax.)

A thriving cannabis industry will balance the scales of justice, according to McGuire, who plans on providing jobs to communities directly hurt by marijuana convictions. He plans on having a deputy mayor who overlooks fair and equitable contracts to Black-owned and Black women-owned businesses.

McGuire was the first candidate to release a comprehensive marijuana plan for the city. “The cannabis industry in NYC with the right people at the table, proper education, centered around people directly impacted by the criminalization of marijuana, and focused on Black and brown entrepreneurs can be a gold standard for the cannabis industry nationwide,” McGuire told Gothamist/WNYC.

McGuire will advocate for expanding the list of conditions that qualify for cannabis prescriptions, which has been proven to be beneficial with innumerable medical conditions.

He would propose a science-based curriculum to educate young people on marijuana safety as well as partner with DOHMH to inform city residents. McGuire says he would fund local organizations that are already embedded within communities to further educate people. Education is also significant when it comes to law enforcement, McGuire says, “we will also ensure officers receive marijuana education and training on proper protocol.”


Morales said she will decriminalize all drug use and possession of a limited amount of drugs, including marijuana, within the city by terminating all cannabis arrests and summonses by the NYPD. Following legalization in other states, racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests usually persist but she says she will make sure that isn’t the case here.

Morales supports an agenda that reserves a section of the legal market for Black and brown entrepreneurs and worker self-managed cooperatives. She pledges to provide people negatively affected by prohibition with city assistance in setting up a dispensary, and incentivize those businesses to open up in Black and brown neighborhoods. Those businesses would be encouraged to re-invest money and jobs in hard-hit areas, and a Morales administration would help them through the MWBE program and the Department of Small Business Services.

“Every funding and policy decision I make will center and prioritize the people our city has left behind — Black and Brown residents, immigrants, and the working poor. That is who the war on drugs targeted and that is who will benefit most from cannabis industry tax revenue,” Morales told Gothamist/WNYC. Tax revenue from the cannabis industry would be directly put towards social services that prioritize vulnerable city residents under her administration. She will also link the cannabis industry to the healthcare industry, “to ensure the medicinal advantages of cannabis are accessible to all communities, not just those with access,” she says.

As mayor, Morales wants to fully grasp the effects of the war on drugs and the cost of repairs and plans to create a study that outlines it all. Education surrounding marijuana will be done through a language justice lens, Morales added. Her focus will be on normalizing the safe use of marijuana, instead of adding to the stigmatization of cannabis users.

It's 2022, and you are the mayor. An NYPD officer walks through a park and sees a group of young adults sitting a few yards away, smoking marijuana. What should happen next?

“Absolutely nothing,” Morales said.


Stringer said that the city should eliminate “all marijuana-related enforcement and issuing of summonses, the burdens of which continue to be borne by Black and Latino New Yorkers.”

He added that he supports legalization and is a fan of the MRTA because it explicitly includes equity provisions that reflect communities most harmed by marijuana.

Stringer’s office has outlined how beneficial the cannabis market could be through a 2018 analysis that found it could bring in $336 million in annual tax revenue for the city alone. “The legal market will generate billions of dollars, and we must ensure that in the process, we correct historic injustice and provide opportunities to working New Yorkers — not Wall Street or big corporations,” he told Gothamist/WNYC.

Stringer already requested the creation of a citywide equity program that assists local entrepreneurs interested in the industry as comptroller and would make it a reality as mayor. Referring to it as an “incubator hub,” the program would help New Yorkers (with priority given to those with prior convictions themselves or a family member) navigate the regulations, licensing procedures, and financing.

His administration would also handle educating city residents through a public health campaign.

It's 2022, and you are the mayor. An NYPD officer walks through a park and sees a group of young adults sitting a few yards away, smoking marijuana. What should happen next?

“Nothing should happen next,” Stringer replied. “The officer should keep walking and continue their on-duty responsibilities.”


Yang would direct law enforcement agencies to immediately stop investigating, arresting, and prosecuting all minor marijuana offenses. Yang also said he supports prohibiting low-level marijuana offenses from being used in pretrial release, probation, and parole decisions along with providing certain protections when it comes to discrimination against individuals who recreationally use cannabis.

He would create a social equity program to provide training, mentorship, and financial support to those disproportionately harmed by marijuana laws. The program will also use the revenue brought in by the industry to fund and support businesses owned by individuals of color through various means like priority licensing, waiving fees and taxes, and providing technical and professional guidance.

Yang supports a city-owned local cannabis industry, he told Gothamist/WNYC, something that is not possible under the MRTA, according to Moore of the Drug Policy Alliance.

“There is a lot of potential for this market to thrive here while generating revenue that would help fix our ongoing budget shortfalls so we can invest in more programs to help New Yorkers,” Yang told Gothamist/WNYC. As mayor, he would require and incentivize businesses to hire a certain percentage of employees who have been harmed by marijuana prohibition.

Yang would educate New Yorkers on marijuana safety through a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene campaign.

It's 2022, and you are the mayor. An NYPD officer walks through a park and sees a group of young adults sitting a few yards away, smoking marijuana. What should happen next?

“The exact same thing that would happen if those young adults were smoking tobacco or drinking in a place that prohibited it,” Yang said. “We should not be treating marijuana differently than other substances, especially when we know that strict enforcement ends up disproportionately hurting Black and Brown New Yorkers.”

Candidates Maya Wiley and Eric Adams did not respond to our questionnaire. Here is their brief stance on marijuana in the city from a VOCAL forum on March 17th.


Adams supports marijuana legalization and as mayor, his administration would assist those involved in the drug trade to become vendors.

“I have been a strong proponent of the legalization of marijuana, with revenues earmarked to the communities that have historically borne the brunt of over-policing due to the war on drugs,” Adams said at the forum.


Wiley backs the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana and supports reinvesting revenue into Black and brown communities as well as expunging all low-level drug convictions.

“As Mayor, I will convene the District Attorneys, the NYPD, DOHMH and others to create a unified approach to minimizing enforcement of outdated laws and replacing the cost associated with that enforcement with proven supports and non-criminal justice interventions,” Wiley said at the forum.