At the start of the month, Norman Birenbaum announced that he would be stepping down from his position overseeing cannabis in Rhode Island for an opportunity in New York. Now we know what that opportunity is: Director of Cannabis Programs, a newly created position that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week.
In addition to his role overseeing medical cannabis and hemp in Rhode Island, and working with Governor Gina Raimondo on adult use efforts in the state, Birenbaum is a coordinator with a group called the Regulators Roundtable, which brings together regulators from the US and Canada to “share emerging trends in cannabis legalization and develop best practices in cannabis policy and regulation.”
The timing of Birenbaum’s New York appointment, and the creation of a new position devoted to cannabis is significant: in October, Cuomo convened governors across the northeast to discuss a coordinated adult use legalization push, an effort in which Birenbaum will be involved. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of Cuomo’s cannabis summit.)
Cannabis Wire caught up with Birenbaum to learn more about his new role and what’s ahead in 2020.
Cannabis Wire: Will your work be on the existing medical cannabis and hemp programs alone, or will you also be working on the coordinated approach to adult use across the northeast that Cuomo is spearheading? If yes to the latter, in what capacity?
Birenbaum: I’ll be working on the existing regulated medical cannabis program, the industrial hemp program, as well as the Governor’s proposal for adult use. Supporting the Governor’s work to align adult use policy in the northeast is an important part of this work. I’ll be coordinating with staff members across the administration and our counterparts in neighboring states to make sure that New York’s adult use framework reflects the shared principles established at this year’s cannabis summit and to identify other best practices, which promote public health, public safety, social equity and justice.
Cannabis Wire: How will your work with the Regulators Roundtable inform this new role?
Birenbaum: I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to regularly confer with other cannabis regulators from across the US and Canada. The roundtable has been invaluable to identifying emerging trends, challenges, and solutions in the cannabis space. This collaborative forum made a significant impact on past initiatives in Rhode Island and I expect it will continue to help me in my new role here in New York.
Cannabis Wire: What is your top priority for 2020?
Birenbaum: My top priority is making sure that existing programs reflect best policies and practices to best serve New York’s medical cannabis patients by expanding access to safe, regulated, and accessible medicine; expanding opportunities in the state’s burgeoning industrial hemp industry; and ensuring that the Governor’s proposal for adult use is implemented as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Cannabis Wire: On the adult use push, what issues are top of mind (tax allocation, equity, vaping, etc) and why?
Birenbaum: Prioritizing public health and safety, restorative justice, workforce development and cannabis research are top of mind. Until the federal government fundamentally shifts their stance on cannabis, states need to lead the way to end the failed policy of prohibition. New York is uniquely positioned to fill these gaps and be a national model for how to regulate, study, and invest in cannabis.
Cannabis Wire: On that note, what is the biggest takeaway or lesson from this year’s failed push to legalize?
Birenbaum: I think the biggest takeaway is that states are getting more thoughtful and responsible on adult use legalization and cannabis policy. It’s very encouraging to see the similarities that exist between various proposals and it shows great progress that policy makers are having the types of thoughtful discussions and championing proposals that never occurred just a few short years ago.