Hochul’s Half-Baked Appointment

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Cannabis event, New York Union Square Park. May 2021 Photo: Shutterstock

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s choice to head the new cannabis control board is a half-baked idea — because the appointee has zero experience dealing with the marijuana industry, a legislative pot expert kvetched.

Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) called Hochul’s appointment of former state Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright “mystifying” during a hastily assembled confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee last week.

Savino, who helped draft New York’s medical marijuana law years ago, said Wright is an “accomplished lawyer” who has experience in advocating for “social equity” adding, “so this is not a reflection of you.”

But then Savino put it bluntly.

“I’m somewhat mystified as to why the governor decided to put in charge of the cannabis board a person who has no experience in cannabis,” she said while questioning Wright at what had been an otherwise friendly confirmation hearing.

“You have experience in a lot of things,” Savino added, “but I’m concerned you don’t have direct experience in cannabis itself.”

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature in March legalized recreational use and sale of marijuana — and now Wright is faced with the gargantuan task of setting up from scratch a legal weed industry from seed to sale, including drafting regulations.

Wright, a former Brooklyn assemblywoman and Democrat who most recently served as an executive with the state Department of Financial Services, said her small business experience included running a neighborhood coffee shop and serving on the local Brooklyn community board.

Despite her misgivings, Savino said she ultimately supported Wright’s nomination and vowed to work with her.

She urged Wright, new Office of Cabinet Management executive director Chris Alexander and other staffers to visit states where the legalized marijuana programs have had rocky starts — including California, Oregon, Illinois and Massachusetts.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our state,” said Wright during her confirmation hearing. “We have an opportunity to create an industry from the bottom up …. This is our opportunity to get it right.”

She also has strong political ties, having served as chair of the Legislature’s Black, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.

Wright gave up her Assembly seat in a failed bid to get elected to the state Senate last year.

State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), who chairs the finance committee, insisted Wright was qualified for the job despite Savino’s criticism.

“I know Tremaine Wright to be smart and committed to the missions of diversity, criminal justice reform, and small business development that are all crucial to OCM [Office of Cannabis Management],” Krueger said.

“Yes, I believe she is qualified for the job. I am confident that senior staff and advisory board experts can bring her up to speed on issues unique to cannabis.“

Wright didn’t comment on Savino’s criticisms when asked by The Post.

Hochul’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays, said the governor was “confident that [Wright] will do an outstanding job” noting her “wealth of knowledge and experience in public policy, criminal justice and economic growth.”

“We are grateful to Senator Savino for her longstanding advocacy on these issues, and we look forward to working with her and our new leadership to grow our state’s cannabis industry and make real change for New Yorkers,” Crampton-Hays said in a statement.

The newly installed governor’s other major pot appointee — Christopher Alexander as executive director of the new office of cannabis management — fared much better at his confirmation hearing.

Senators said Alexander, who was recently employed by the black-owned cannabis company The Village and formerly headed the Drug Policy Alliance, was eminently qualified. He also served as legal counsel to Senate Democrats.

“I’ve been working on this for a long time,” Alexander said at the hearing, referring to legalizing recreational use of marijuana and expunging criminal records for pot possession.

Alexander signed a five-page statement to recuse himself from any decision involving The Village, which is likely to apply for a cannabis business license in New York.

Hochul pushed through the cannabis appointments during a special legislative session just a week after becoming governor.

The decisions on appointments had been stalled for months following disputes between Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace amid a sex harassment scandal, and Democratic lawmakers in the Senate. Cuomo was irked that the Senate blocked changes he sought in MTA leadership — an unrelated issue.

Both appointees said they were informed of their selections by Hochul the day before they were nominated.

Their salaries have yet to be set by the governor and lawmakers.