New York cannabis rollout moves ahead, but roadblocks remain

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The rollout of New York’s new cannabis policies has new life after the state legislature confirmed appointments to oversee the regulatory process last week, but the state is still months away from issuing licenses to retailers, growers and processors.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or MRTA, passed in April. However, much of the rollout has been delayed because Governor Andrew Cuomo did not nominate officials to the newly created Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board.

“These are people that wrote the bill. They should’ve had these people in mind when they wrote those statutes,” said Troy Smit, Deputy Director of Empire State NORML.

Governor Kathy Hochul appointed two people to fill the top posts for cannabis regulation. Acting in a special summer session, the state senate quickly confirmed Christopher Alexander to be Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management. The move pleased many cannabis proponents, including those from the more progressive activist center given Alexander’s former work for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“He is the right person to live out the vision of the MRTA and make sure we have the social and economic equity in the New York State cannabis industry,” said Allan Gandelman, President of the New York Cannabis Processors and Growers Association.

The senate also confirmed former Assemblymember Tremaine Wright to head up the five-member Cannabis Control Board.

“I’m not seeing any negatives. [Wright is] pretty much a wildcard,” Smit said.

Even with the nominations, recreational sales in New York won’t begin until later in 2022. It is not clear how quickly that timeline will move forward because there are still a number of posts left to be filled in the state’s regulatory structure for cannabis.

The Cannabis Advisory Board, a seven member panel made up of appointees from the senate, assembly and Governor, is partially responsible for regulations on issuing social and economic equity licenses to disadvantaged groups and communities that have been disproportionately policed. None of those seven members have been nominated to date. The governor and legislature also have to appoint the other four members of the Cannabis Control Board and several other upper level posts in the Office of Cannabis Management.

Gandelman and others are worried that those applicants will have a harder time setting up businesses as larger corporate cannabis companies from out of state eye up operations in New York.

 

“The longer the program takes to get setup, the less jobs there will be created and the less that the social equity applicants are going to be able to get into the business because we’re looking at some serious competition from out of state,” Gandelman said.

These big competitors have started investing in real estate and other resources around New York, allowing them to get a jump start whenever growing and retail sales go live.

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