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Weed On the Roofs of Public Housing? New York Wants It

If you think this sounds like a strange headline, it is, but its also true. The real question about whether weed can be grown on the roofs of public housing buildings, is if this would cause massive issues with the federal government. It is a catchy idea though, and maybe it will happen.

Growing weed on the roofs of public housing buildings might be the next move to widen the legal cannabis industry, and New York is first to propose it. We’re a news publication focusing on the growing cannabis and psychedelics industries. Stay current by signing up for THC Weekly Newsletter, and also get prime access to offers on edibles, vapes, and tons of other cannabis products, including cannabinoid compounds. We ask that you remember, *cannabinoid products are not everyone’s favorite thing, and we do not promote anyone to buy products they are uncomfortable with!


What’s the news?

In an April 9th panel discussion for the New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislators 51st Annual Legislative Conference, New York City Mayor Eric Adams brought up the idea of growing weed plants on the roofs of public housing buildings. According to a Gothamist report, Adams stated, “We want to examine the possibilities of having a greenhouse space on (New York City Housing Authority) rooftops to grow cannabis… The jobs can come from NYCHA residents. The proceeds and education can go right into employing people right in the area.”

A spokesman for the mayor clarified that the office “wants to ensure ‘those targeted by the war on drugs are first in line to benefit from the legal cannabis industry.’” This idea comes from the mayor attempting to find ways to welcome and bolster New York’s newly won cannabis industry. If this actually were to happen, the mayor explained that housing authority residents would manage the weed greenhouses and that a licensing system would be instituted for cultivation approval.

The whole thing, aside from giving a new avenue for growth in the cannabis industry, would work to help communities that were hit hard by the war on drugs, so they could profit from the new market. It would prioritize these communities to be first in line to access benefits from such a program. The gardens/greenhouses would be city-sanctioned properties of the NYCHA and would add to the cannabis industry, while benefiting stressed populations.

weed public housing

The idea also attempts to answer “the challenges of cultivating cannabis in a densely populated metropolis like New York City.” It would be accomplished, according to the mayor, by “embracing hydroponic greenhouses on buildings throughout the city—including those owned by NYCHA.”

And while this all sounds great, and like an inventive way to use space in a crowded area, it does have an issue. Sure, cannabis holds incredible value for both medical and recreational purposes, and can assist governments in bringing in new lines of tax revenue, but there is one obstacle sitting in the way.

Is growing weed on the roofs of public housing just a pipe dream?

Technically it sounds like a good plan. Area is limited in a place like Manhattan, and growing on rooftops proposes a good usage of space. It would also provide help and income to those in the buildings, which could benefit populations which are struggling. How much would go to them in the end, and how useful it would be, are impossible to say. However, as a general proposal, it does sound decent.

Until it’s considered that even though this is a proposed policy within a state that has legalized cannabis, that the federal government subsidizes these housing projects, making for an uncomfortable overlapping of federal and state government. This proposes a problem as cannabis is still federally illegal on all fronts, and the federal government would probably have a major issue with continuing to fund a project that blatantly breaks federal law.

Though Adams brought up the idea in the panel, there is no formal push just yet, so the US government hasn’t had a reason to officially respond. The most the federal government did to comment on the proposal right now, was through a statement by a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who reportedly stated to Gothamist that “marijuana is illegal in public housing.”

A spokesperson for Adams did recognize the federal government issue, though no answer was offered for how Adams plans to go around it. For that matter, nothing was stated about whether this idea will go forward, or not.

cannabis NY

Federal cannabis bills

A few years ago this idea would have died immediately. Even now it proposes quite an issue, but it proposes it at an interesting time, when things are already in flux enough, that the federal government doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. In fact, the federal government is already getting closer to passing one legalization/decriminalization bill, with another ready to go. As these bills challenge federal prohibition, its quite possible that near-future changes could open the way for this project.

The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act), which functions both as a decriminalization bill, and a legalization bill (as it does involve setting up tax rates), passed the US House of Representatives on April 1st via a 220-204 vote. This moves it on to the Senate. Whether it can pass the Senate or not is a big question, as a nearly identical bill from 2020 got as far, just to die in that arm of Congress.

The MORE Act is not the only bill out there though. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is a bill sponsored by Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. Unlike the MORE Act, it wasn’t officially introduced into Congress yet, meaning it was put out there to test waters and gain support. Though the bill was supposed to be formally introduced around ‘420’ of this year, it was postponed to later in the summer.

It provides yet another avenue for legalization through the federal government, and attacks it through the Senate first. As the Senate has been harder to get bills like this through, a passage through the Senate first could mean a much better chance of a full approval. It’s quite possible that both bills will die out, or that both, or just one, will pass.

That there is so much interest on a federal level to decriminalize and/or legalize the recreational use of cannabis, indicates that Mayor Eric Adam’s proposed plan to grow weed on the roofs of public housing buildings really isn’t that far out. By the time New York could formulate and pass a bill, cannabis might already be legal in the whole of the US anyway.

Cannabis and New York

On Wednesday March 31st, 2021, New York became the 16th state to pass a recreational cannabis legalization bill when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed in the New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act, permitting those 21 and above to partake. This bill also paves the way for a regulated market, which is slated to open sometime in 2022, though no official date was released. According to the bill, adults can have up to three ounces of cannabis, and 24 grams of concentrates.

weed legalization

Senate Bill S854A passed by a General Assembly vote of 94 to 56 (though original numbers put it at 100 to 49), after first passing the Senate floor with a 40 to 23 vote. Though recreational sales have not started yet, as of mid-April, 2022, over 50 licenses were granted to farmers in New York to grow recreational marijuana.

Incidentally, about 24 hours after New York legalized for recreational use, New Mexico followed suit, becoming the 17th state to pass a legalization policy. That one-two punch was followed by Virginia in the summer of 2021, which was the last state thus far to pass a recreational legalization bill. All told, 18 US states have legalization policies, and Washington DC as well, although due to being the home of the federal government, Washington is legal for possession, use, and cultivation, but not for regulated sales.

Conclusion

Nothing more has been said about this recent proposal by New York City’s mayor to grow weed on the roofs of public housing buildings, but as a federal legalization gets closer, the issue of state vs federal becomes less and less pertinent. It could be that this idea to use government subsidized buildings to cultivate cannabis becomes the norm, and if/when a federal legalization passes, perhaps government buildings will become synonymous with growing weed.

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