Thursday, June 2, 2016

From Buffalo with Bud: Q&A with Anthony Baney of the Buffalo Cannabis Movement

by JIM BRASH, NORTH STAR EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER and Media Committee CHAIR, Green Party of New Jersey 
TNS: How did the drafting of the 2014 bill , The Buffalo Marijuana Act come about?
The BMA was drafted in response to the fact that many residents believe the Buffalo Police Department has been targeting minorities for low level cannabis possession. After a few public presentations, including a “Know Your Rights” Q&A at local bookstore Burning Books. Attorney Daire Brian went into detail about New York State’s Marijuana laws, where we discussed the many scenarios in which NY residents are targeted via disingenuous laws. I researched municipalities that had attempted law reform and found that residents of Hailey, Idaho voted on a 3-part reform bill, and I edited the language to fit Buffalo.
TNS: How is the Buffalo Marijuana a 3 part bill? Could you please explain the components of the bill and how they would affect the residents of Buffalo and Erie County?
The BMA is separated by 3 main ideas. The first deals with residents who are arrested for consuming cannabis for medical reasons. The Second Chapter deals with those who are being arrested for Low Level Possession (under 25 grams, NYS P.L. 221.10). The Third Chapter deals with legalization and cultivation of Industrial Hemp. Hemp contains less than 1% THC. Each chapter has a section creating a committee to discuss cannabis reform and to oversee implementation of the Act. There is also a severability section in each chapter so that the Common Council can separate any part of the Bill.
TNS: You were founded as the Buffalo Marijuana Movement, why did you vote to change the name of your group in 2015?
A few outside observers had commented that the group may be taken less seriously as the Buffalo Marijuana Movement. We also believed the definition of cannabis better encompasses the terminology referring to the whole plant. We didn’t want to have so close a connection to what public may envision as the prohibition era term “marijuana”, whereas“cannabis” refers to the whole botanical plant and more recent publicity of all it’s healing compounds. We put the question up for a vote for all of the BCM members and followers. (
TNS: What were your criticisms of the NYS Compassionate Care Act and how did those criticisms lead to the drafting of the Buffalo Medical Cannabis Act?
There have been many criticisms of the CCA which we have documented ( The BMCA was drafted after learning about the full details of the CCA, and we discussed an alternative program that Buffalo could implement. With the help of a few concerned parents of children that were potential patients. A couple local Doctors also helped draft the BMCA.
TNS: What has been the response from the Buffalo Common Council?
The Common Council has been willing with reluctance to help improve the State’s program, and apply pressure to the State legislature to act. When there is public pressure, the Common Council is more willing to act.
TNS: In 2015 you organized a rally in front of the Buffalo City Hall for 420 (cannabis holiday). How did that come about? What was it like? What came out of that rally?
In 2012, there was a Legalize it Rally which was inspired by the Occupy Movement, specifically Occupy Buffalo ( After that, we have tried to hold an event on 420 every year to highlight the issue. In 2015 we were pushing for the Buffalo Common Council to vote on the Buffalo Marijuana Act. It was rainy and chilly that day, so it was not a huge turnout of people. We decided to keep applying public pressure on the Common Council to pass legislation.
TNS: How was this year’s 420 event?
We held the event at Delaware Park and named it the 420 Freedom Fest this year. We had live music, and had tables of information on the laws, and how to reform the laws. Many people came out to support, and to have a good time.
TNS: What type of organisations have endorsed or sponsored your efforts in Buffalo, NY?
PUSH Buffalo has been our biggest ally.
TNS: Could you please explain what the NYS Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act Petition and Action is about?
It is a petition for the NYS Senate Bill 1747 (Marijuana Regulation + Taxation Act). We are gathering signatures for what is being proposed as a bill for recreational sale and indoor personal cultivation of 6 plants. We are still drafting a response to the entirety of the proposed bill as it is stuck in Finance Committee with little support in the foreseeable future.
TNS: Have organisations signed on to endorse this?
PUSH Buffalo helped hold a public hearing at City Hall with our local Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who is the Primary Sponsor of MRTA in the Assembly. The Drug Policy Alliance had also helped with that hearing, and also a few public reach outs to community organizations like the Partnership for Public Good. The New York State Committee to Legalize Marijuana has been very vocal about supporting MRTA.
TNS: What type of outreach has your group done around NY state?
We stay in contact with members from The New York State Committee to Legalize Marijuana. We try to stay in contact with the Drug Policy Alliance.
TNS: What is your connection to the Amherst Cannabis Movement?
We started it to attempt to branch out to more suburban communities around Buffalo. There is also the WNY (Western New York) Cannabis Coalition, Tonawanda Cannabis Movement, and the Kenmore Cannabis Movement. A separate loca medical cannabis advocacy group is the Medical Cannabis Connection of New York.
TNS: What type of outreach have you done around the country as far as connecting with other cannabis advocacy groups and activists?
I haven’t had time to start connecting with other activists around the country, besides that my Best Friend Dominic Cannata lives in Colorado.
TNS: Do you have support or endorsements from candidates in the Buffalo area?
We have support from Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes who is the Primary Sponsor of MRTA. Many other elected officials are supportive of the medical program and are waiting to see how that works out.
TNS: How does a lack of decriminalization and legalization affect communities of color, and young people in Buffalo and Erie county?
We contacted the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and found that minorities are being disproportionately targeted for low level cannabis possession in Erie County and in Buffalo. We drafted a Statement on our research to the Buffalo Common Council and to the Buffalo Police Oversight Committee. We discussed how young African Americans are being arrested 82% of the lowest level possession charge in Buffalo in 2015. While African Americans only represent 38% of the City’s population, and national statistics show that White, and African Americans use drugs around the same rate. We discussed how people can be denied Student loans if arrested for Cannabis possession, and that people are hindered from future career opportunities. This seriously disadvantages a segment of our population that is already disadvantaged.
TNS: Who benefits from the continued criminalization of cannabis in NY?
Politicians who get money from special interest groups such as Fossil Fuels, Pharmaceuticals, Alcohol, and Police Unions among many.
TNS: What is the current policing policy as related to cannabis, in Buffalo?
The Police will arrest you if you are possessing cannabis in Public, or more than 25 grams but statistics show that this is more likely to happen to African Americans.
TNS: When cannabis for recreational use becomes legal in New York, is the BCM planning to call for all arrests related to cannabis/marijuana to be expunged, all current cases before the courts to be dismissed, and full pardons be granted to former and current inmates with cannabis/marijuana charges?
I can’t speak for the BCM, but I feel that all people that were convicted for nonviolent offenses involving Cannabis should be released and have their records expunged.
TNS: What are the prospects for legalization in Buffalo and all of New York for 2016?
We hope that we can get the Buffalo Common Council to pass a Resolution urging the New York State Legislature, and the NYS Department of Health to reform the Compassionate Care Act. I don’t see much significant reforms to the Compassionate Care Act in NYS in 2016, but I’m remaining hopeful that public pressure may sway that.
TNS: What are the plans for BCM moving forward , especially after the November elections?
I hope the BCM will be able to be a driving force by educating the local community about reforming the laws to truly benefit the community. I hope that we will be able to educate more people on Senate Bill 1747 (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act), and motivate people to pressure their State representatives.
TNS: What advice would you give folks that want to start similar organizations in their communities and present the same types of legislation before their own city councils and board of chosen freeholders?
When you have a good idea, run with it, and challenge it with everybody who supports or opposes. Figure out the positives and the negatives with your proposal, and then pitch the idea to the community. Politicians will only act when they are pressured, and having an engaged community is vital. Staying involved in the local community and developing relationships is extremely important.
TNS: What advice would you give to young people just starting to getting involved with the movement for social justice, cannabis advocacy and other forms of community activism?
Keep your head up, but remember that everybody is constantly learning. Younger people have more energy, so learn how to direct it positively, and not recklessly.
TNS: Would you like to add anything else?
I believe that the government should not be able to restrict access to a plant that has so many uses, stifling life altering research that may lead to the cure of many ailments, all the while generating massive amounts of money for the prison industrial complex. I believe everyone should have the right to use a plant if they so chose.
I’ve seen the flaws in the CCA up close and personal and is why i’m pushing the MRTA. I am ecstatic for those who get relief from the CDB oil but there are more people that need access to the plant and in different forms. You should not have to be on death’s door to use cannabis. The current system is tricky to navigate and there are few doctors prescribing this medicine. The doctors that do have to follow the law to the letter which complicates things on both sides. Even someone who has survived cancer, radiation , and life long debilitating irreversible side effects from the treatment may not technically be eligible under the CCA, because they don’t have cancer currently and that is wrong. Doctors having to worry about losing their license and or breaking federal law for prescribing a plant that helps quality of life , and may even save lives is also wrong. Doctors prescribe man made , highly profitable, highly addictive pain pills with much less scrutiny in NY than with cannabis. Cannabis has the ability to help a lot of people get off of or take a lot less pain pills, which will cause Big Pharma to lose profits, which might have something to do with the current laws.

TNS: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Good luck with efforts to decriminalize and legalize cannabis in Buffalo, NY.
[The above interview originally appeared on the North Star website, May 26, 2016.]

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