New York is moving closer to a legal and regulated market for recreational marijuana with the first meeting of the state’s Cannabis Control Board
Six months after New York legalized marijuana for recreational use, the state is finally getting down to the business of setting the rules for growing, processing and selling it — and ensuring the “social equity” provisions written into the law.
The first meeting of the state’s new Cannabis Control Board, which will also regulate non-THC cannabis like hemp and CBD, met on Oct. 5 in a virtual format.
Many observers have complained about the slow start, which was hampered in part by the issues that led to the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the transition to new Gov. Kathy Hochul. Since Hochul took office in August, she has pushed to name the members of the board and get the state’s new Office of Cannabis Management, which will oversee day-today business, up and running.
Those eager to get into the new industry or otherwise benefit by it are happy to see the progress. But they fear it may still take well into 2022 for such things as business licenses to be issued.
“It’s certainly good to see some movement after all these months,” said Kaelan Catstetter, policy director for the Castetter Cannabis Group, a Binghamton-area business consulting firm. “It took longer than it should, probably.”
Since April 1, it has been legal for New Yorkers 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana, but they have no legal way to obtain it. It can’t yet be sold or grown legally for recreational use in New York because those regulations and licensing requirements haven’t been adopted. (Marijuana also can’t be brought across state lines or international borders because it is still considered an illegal drug under federal law.)
There are plenty of other issues to be resolved, including ensuring that business licenses and other industry benefits help what the law describes as the communities disproportionately affected by past law enforcement for marijuana offenses no longer considered crimes.
Doing all of those things is complicated, said Samir Mahadin, a Skanaeateles-area hemp grower who plans to begin growing marijuana when the licenses are issued. He also chairs the social equity committee for the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.
“We are moving from the black market, to the gray and now to legal,” Mahadin said. “So there are a lot of questions and things that need to be figured out.”
He doesn’t expect much beyond “nuts and bolts” to happen today, although one of the agenda items is the potential appointment of a chief equity officer for the cannabis agency.
Mahadin and others are hoping for progress soon on issues like the regulations and licenses for growing THC marijuana. Growers want to make sure that happens in time for them to plant seeds in the spring.
“I think the biggest thing is that we now move expeditiously in getting these regulations in place,” said Eddie Brennan, president of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards, which is already moving into the hemp business and has plans to expand with THC marijuana. “The dream is to get them in time for the growing season in 2022, but that’s going to require some fast movement in the next few weeks. We want to get this program up and running in 2022.”
Delays in setting requirements and rules are also hindering investors in making decisions on how or whether to get involved in New York’s marijuana industry.
“Obviously New York has the potential to be the biggest market in the country,” Brennan said. “So this is important.”
In addition to legal marijuana, Castetter said the new cannabis board must address lingering questions from a 2019 state law that overhauled regulation of the hemp extracts/CBD business. Although those were initially enforced by the state Health Department, they now move on to the cannabis control board and the cannabis management office.
Issues that will require attention by the cannabis board include labelling and packaging requirements for hemp products and a decision on what to do about Delta 8 THC, a psychoactive hemp extract (not marijuana) that the state is considering making illegal.
The cannabis board and the cannabis office are also now responsible for policies and operations of the state’s medical marijuana program, which predates the recreational marijuana legalization but is also due for some new regulations.
That means there is a lot of work ahead.
“I’m hoping that things stay on track so we can be ready to apply for licenses maybe as soon as January,” said Mike Golden, who with his partner Anthony Byron Cage plans to use their company called The Higher Calling to open Syracuse’s first marijuana “consumption lounge” in Armory Square next year. “I’m also hoping they stick to the social equity proposals and that it all just stays fair and equitable as we go from legacy (the old illicit weed market) to legal.”
The five-member Cannabis Control Board is led by chairman Tremaine S. Wright. The director of the Office of Cannabis Management is Christopher Alexander.