ALBANY – Efforts to create a complex regulatory system that will completely bring retail marijuana sales to New York state are suddenly picking up speed again.
And all it took was a change of address for the former Executive Mansion resident.
Less than a week after taking over Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor Kathy Hochul has already discussed with lawmakers how to get the marijuana cultivation, distribution and sale program launched in March underway.
Hochul is expected to do something Cuomo has avoided since the law was passed: initiate a necessary regulatory process that can begin soon after she elects an executive director and chairman of the new Office of Cannabis Management. This person has to iron out the final regulatory details of what will become a multibillion dollar industry.
“You’re definitely prioritizing this,” said State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, of the Hochul government’s efforts to get the marijuana program going.
“The good thing is that there is a new governor and she has agreed to move the issue forward,” added Congregation Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat.
The two lawmakers enacted the bill, passed earlier this year, which instantly decriminalized the possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana for people age 21 and older and created a new, regulated and taxed system for retail sales of the drug.
Krueger and Peoples-Stokes spoke to Hochul just before she became governor last week. Both said they were satisfied that Hochul wants to reverse the program’s delay over the past five months under Cuomo.
Political advantages for Hochul
For Hochul, the focus will please not only the Democrats in the legislature who pushed through marijuana legalization, but also the liberal Democratic voters, whom she will have to court early and often in her new government if she hopes a primary free path to hers Next political decision to find goal: a general election campaign for a full term in November 2022.
Even if Hochul acts quickly, Krueger and Peoples-Stokes say it will be another 18 months before marijuana retailing could begin. That’s because a multi-step process must be in place to approve regulations implementing the law before growers and sellers can obtain licenses.
Proponents have been disappointed with what lawmakers and lawyers say Cuomo is dragging his feet. He hesitantly supported efforts to legalize medical marijuana years ago and opposed wider legalization for years.
“The time has come,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group pushing for drug law changes nationwide.
“New Yorkers have made it clear that cannabis is a critical criminal justice issue that the administration should prioritize. And they have also made it clear that they want to see the communities that are hardest hit rule the new market and the larger regulator. Since women have been at the forefront of this reform, it makes sense that the first female governor be the one to carry it out, “she said.
Hochul wants to advance the regulatory plan
Cuomo eased his opposition to marijuana as public opinion polls changed and more states decided to legalize cannabis.
The March Legislation was part one. In order to be implemented, regulations on thousands of specific details must be drawn up by the authority overseeing the program.
But this new agency has yet to be created. As a first step, the governor must appoint an executive director and a chairman of the board; both require the approval of the State Senate. The Senate and Assembly each receive one appointment, and the governor then receives two other direct appointments.
Shortly after the adoption in March, the legislature and Cuomo argued over Cuomo’s choice for a director of the new agency. That person would, in the words of one stakeholder, be the potential “Robert Moses” of the state’s future regulated marijuana industry, a nod to the man who essentially controlled New York as an unelected bureaucrat for decades. The agency chief will oversee the new “adult use” sales system, an expanded medical marijuana program and the agricultural hemp industry.
Krueger said it had been made clear to Cuomo that his choice – whose lack of experience would include such a large new program – would not be confirmed.
So nothing happened. Cuomo, who had faced a flurry of scandals since the spring, stopped all movement of the new program.
Few, however, were surprised. While various marijuana expansion laws were passed during the Cuomo years, Krueger said Cuomo had to kick and yell. “He was extremely ambivalent about any issues related to cannabis,” she said.
But Hochul, she said, wanted to move on with the matter “with some expediency”.
Why is Hochul different from Cuomo?
“Well, maybe it’s because I asked her, that’s part of it,” People-Stokes said of a conversation she had with Hochul just before she became governor – expanding the marijuana marketplace, people and Includes facilities in low-income minority neighborhoods that are given special access to become part of the new marijuana sector.
Krueger said the regulatory process needs to start in earnest for another reason behind the legislature’s intent with the law: to curb the illicit marijuana trade, where consumers cannot be sure what is in the drug they are using to buy.
“It’s extremely confusing out there,” she said of voters calling on her every day to clear up the law that allows people to smoke marijuana in many public places without fear of arrest, but it always does still illegal – until the state regulated program is underway – to buy the drug.
Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president at Chicago-based PharmaCann, which operates medical marijuana facilities in New York, including one in Amherst, said there are “simple” steps the state can take now with this program, not the ones More comprehensive regulations have to wait for work. For example, the March Act gave doctors greater discretion in recommending marijuana to a patient and allowing patients to prescribe cannabis flowers to smoke rather than the more restricted ways of consuming the drug.
Unruh said New York is now in a “race” to get its broader marijuana program in motion before possible federal laws are passed that, he added, the various licensing rules or tax regulations for “social justice” in March of New York would not contain law.
Marijuana enemies are a cause for concern
Opponents, from the New York State PTA and medical organizations to law enforcement agencies, have been pushing for years to stop the march to legalize marijuana. They raised concerns about a wide range of health and social issues, including the following: the government should not promote – and benefit from – through tax systems – a drug that can be harmful to some people; that more people become addicted in a state where some do not have easy or affordable access to drug or psychiatric treatment; and that the illicit drug market continues to operate underground on a more lucrative and untaxed market.
The New York State Association of Chiefs of Police has received a direct message of concern: road safety.
“Other states that have legalized marijuana have seen dramatic increases in accidents and road deaths related to people driving under the influence of marijuana. We are simply asking lawmakers to provide funding to combat the growth in marijuana driving, ”said Patrick Phelan, executive director of the Rochester-based nationwide group that represents police chiefs large and small.
Phelan said there is also an “urgent need” for drug detection experts, who are specially trained police officers who are deployed on suspicion of drug exposure. He said the number of such experts is now “totally inadequate” even before legal retail sales begin.
In addition, he said, the regulatory process needs to address measures to identify impairment from marijuana use and also “determine the real level of impairment that makes a person unable to drive”.
Hochul’s government did not reveal its schedule for nominations for the new Office of Cannabis Management. A spokesman said Hochul officials are “actively” working to ensure that the new agency and its board of directors “can begin implementing a safe, equitable and transparent adult cannabis industry as soon as possible.”
The official said Hochul was obliged to name people with “different experiences” to the agency.
The government, like democratic lawmakers, envisages that the players in the new industry will include everyone from small businesses to new entrepreneurs to people with previous marijuana convictions to “old” operators – the term that is used to describe people who are now involved in the illegal marijuana drug trade.
Representatives of workers at existing medical marijuana companies – vying for recreational marijuana licenses – also believe that Hochul will soon be moving.
“It has legs and is starting to move,” said Joe Fontano, secretary / treasurer of Local 338 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has about 500 workers in companies from Buffalo to Long Island, that are licensed in the state for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana.
Fontano said his union shares the same goals as other proponents of the law’s broader social goals, but also wants to ensure that workers receive certain wage and job protection benefits. The new law, like the State Medical Marijuana Act of 2014, has labor law components, such as requiring applicants for a marijuana license to enter into labor peace agreements with trade unions.
Fontano said the union’s goal is to create “career-oriented” positions in the new three tier market of growers, distributors and retailers.