New York Senate Committees Hold Joint Hearing On Challenges In State’s Marijuana Legalization Rollout

New York Senate Committees Hold Joint Hearing On Challenges In State’s Marijuana Legalization Rollout

A New York Senate marijuana committee is holding its first meeting on Monday, with members set to hear from witnesses and discuss potential legislative solutions to the state’s ongoing cannabis legalization implementation problems.

The Senate Cannabis Subcommittee, which was established in April and is being chaired by Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D), invited members of the public to submit applications to testify at the hearing earlier this month.

“The goal of this hearing is to solicit feedback from a diverse cohort of individuals involved in the adult-use space,” Cooney said at the time. “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.”

Monday’s joint hearing is being held in conjunction with the chairs of the Senate Agriculture, Finance and Investigations & Government Operations Committees.

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will be among those to testify before the panels, along with other OCM officials.

Additional governmental witnesses include representatives of the Cannabis Advisory Board, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, New York State Department of Taxation & Finance, New York City Council and New York City Sheriff’s Office.

Watch the New York Senate committee marijuana hearing live in the video below: 

Also speaking will be representatives of organizations such as the Cannabis Association of New York, New York Farm Bureau, New York Cannabis Retail Association, Bronx Defenders, Local 338 RWDSU-UFCW and Drug Policy Alliance.

Lawmakers will additionally hear from cannabis businesses of a variety of sizes, ranging from multistate operators like Columbia Care and Acreage Holdings to equity operators such as Housing Works.

All told, there are 37 invited witnesses slated to speak on 13 panels.

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.”

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.

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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 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.”

Meanwhile, New York regulators are working to debunk what they say is the “false” narrative that cannabis is commonly contaminated with fentanyl—a “misconception” that remains “widespread” despite a lack of evidence. OCM recently put out a factsheet on the issue, acknowledging that while fentanyl has been found in drugs like MDMA and heroin, anecdotal claims about marijuana laced with the potent opioid are so far unfounded.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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