New York Senate Cannabis Committee Invites People To Apply To Testify At Hearing On Legalization Challenges This Month

New York Senate Cannabis Committee Invites People To Apply To Testify At Hearing On Legalization Challenges This Month

The chair of a New York Senate cannabis committee is inviting members of the public to apply to testify at an upcoming hearing on challenges facing the state’s legal marijuana industry.

Members of the public interested in speaking at the October 30 meeting must fill out an online witness request form, Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) announced on Monday.

“The goal of this hearing is to solicit feedback from a diverse cohort of individuals involved in the adult-use space,” Cooney, who was appointed to lead the Senate’s first-ever cannabis committee earlier this year, said in a press release.

“I believe the best way to ensure we meet that target is to publicly open a request process to provide oral testimony at the hearing,” he continued, calling it “of the utmost importance for transparency and diversity of voices that we provide an opportunity for any interested to use their voice.”

Cooney first announced the marijuana hearing in early September, saying its purpose is to “finally address the many challenges that we have seen with the rollout of adult-use cannabis here in New York.”

Frustrations over New York’s cannabis program have compounded over recent months, as regulators have worked to stand up a market that prioritizes social equity, awarding conditional licenses to people who’ve been most impacted by prohibition. The process has been slow, however—and illicit cannabis businesses have proliferated in the interim. Meanwhile, lawsuits have temporarily halted cannabis licensing, further complicating the issue.

“We have a responsibility to work with our governor and our state agencies to ensure that our collective goals are met,” Cooney said last month. “And New Yorkers themselves deserve transparency when it comes to their government on what has been done so far.”

Cooney previously told Marijuana Moment that the hearing before the 12-member Senate Subcommittee on Cannabis is primarily meant to be part of a “fact-finding” process and that “we will hopefully identify specific public policy needs [and] legislation in the hearing process. That’s why it’s important that we do it now, this fall, before we convene in Albany.”

The hearing will be held in conjunction with the chairs of the Senate Agriculture, Finance and Investigations & Government Operations Committees.

Anyone interested in speaking must submit a witness request form, although Cooney’s announcement said that there are so many anticipated commenters that likely not everyone will have a chance to testify. There will also be an option to submit written testimony, he said.

Regulators are already making moves—some of them controversial—to broaden access to the legal market. Last month the state Cannabis Control Board (CCB) adopted a change to open retail licensing to all applicants, including big businesses from outside the state and existing medical marijuana companies. The change sparked an outcry from social equity applicants, who said it will undercut the state’s ambitious plan to prioritize small businesses and companies owned by people most directly impacted by prohibition.

Broadening eligibility for participation in the state’s marijuana market is likely to speed the opening of more legal businesses at a time when unlicensed retailers have proliferated, particularly in New York City. Despite the state approving adult-use legalization in 2021, so far only about two dozen legal retailers have opened statewide.

In a lawsuit filed by a veterans group, a judge in August halted licensing under the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program, preventing regulators from granting new conditional adult-use recreational dispensary licenses or processing existing ones.

Cooney said at the time that he was “disappointed” by the judge’s decision to halt new cannabis licenses while the legal challenge plays out.

As part of the state’s effort to speed consumer access to legal marijuana, regulators also launched a program, known as the Cannabis Growers Showcase (CGS), an initiative of New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) that allows licensed growers and processors to sell directly to consumers.

Regulators voted to approve that program in July and quickly began accepting applications. The first pop-up event kicked off in the Hudson Valley in August, and another was held down the road from this year’s state fair.

Late last month, 66 state lawmakers—about a third of the entire state legislature—also wrote to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) urging her to sign a bill that would allow licensed marijuana producers to sell products to tribal retailers. The plan would offer a release valve to hundreds of cannabis farmers who are currently sitting on surpluses but have no place to sell their products.

The circumstances have resulted in more than 250,000 pounds of unsold cannabis being held by growers, the letter says. “Farmers who took out loans and leveraged all their assets to cultivate these crops are demoralized and facing financial disaster unless we act quickly to provide them with an alternate market.”

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