New York’s 151,000 medical cannabis patients will soon have access to cannabis flower for the first time.
The state’s Cannabis Control Board met for the first time on Tuesday, marking regulators’ first step toward standing up New York’s forthcoming adult-use cannabis industry. One of the first items on its agenda: a vote to immediately expand the state’s medical cannabis program to include sales of flower, or buds, which had so far been banned.
Other changes to the state’s medical program: the previous 30 day cannabis supply purchase limit has been raised to 60 days; any medical practitioner who can prescribe controlled substances can now certify a medical cannabis patient; and the $50 registration fees for patients and caregivers is now permanently waived.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law in March, after years of failed negotiations with the bill’s sponsors. The bill legalized cannabis for adult use, and also expanded the state’s existing medical cannabis and hemp programs. In early September, the New York Senate confirmed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominations of Chris Alexander as executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, and Tremaine Wright to chair the state’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB), which will approve regulations, licenses and other actions taken by the Office.
Wright, a former member of the New York State Assembly and first director of the Department of Financial Services’ statewide Office of Financial Inclusion and Equity, led Tuesday’s meeting.
Alexander said that the Board is “very optimistic that the allowance of whole flower will increase patient participation in the program due to the reduction in cost of the product.”
Wright addressed a lapsed deadline head on: patients’ ability to home grow their cannabis. MRTA set a six month effective date for the CCB to craft rules for this — which the Board missed due to delays in setting up the board.
“We have missed the first deadline,” Wright said. “Nevertheless, we are very committed to drafting these regulations and issuing them for public comment and expect it to be an agenda item on one of the upcoming board meetings.”
The state’s adult use law allowed the Senate Majority Leader and the Assembly Speaker to each pick one member of the Board. On the Senate side, Andrea Stewart-Cousins picked Sen. Jen Metzger, and on the Assembly side, Carl Heastie picked Buffalo-based attorney Adam W. Perry. Hochul filled the remaining two seats, which did not need confirmation in the legislature, by nominating Reuben R. McDaniel, III, the president and CEO of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, and Jessica García, the assistant to the president of the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union, UFCW. All Board members were approved on Tuesday.
The Board also approved Jason Starr as New York’s first chief equity officer. Starr comes from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, where he serves as the director of litigation. The board also approved a package of 21 potential hires for senior CCB positions.
Metzger thanked Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger, who co-sponsored adult use legalization bills for years, and also pushed for a regulatory framework that Metzger described as centered around equity, restorative justice, and sustainability.
“This really sets New York’s law apart from all the other states that have legalized adult use marijuana, and it is what truly excites me about this opportunity to serve on the board,” said Metzger, who previously worked on hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) in her former role as Senate Agriculture Chair. “Together with the medical and adult use programs, I think it offers huge opportunities to our farmers, including small farmers, young farmers, historically underrepresented farmers and farmers who have been struggling economically.”
Metzger said that she will be “advocating strongly” for sustainable practices as they pertain to cannabis regulation.
“We face a climate crisis and we have the opportunity to be a real national leader here in New York and ensure that we meet our state’s climate goals,” Metzger said.
García said that her leadership on the Board is an “exciting opportunity” to help New Yorkers who haven’t been able to get involved in the legal cannabis industry to “find a pathway for them to do so with ease.” García, the assistant to the president of the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union, UFCW, said that adult use cannabis in New York is a chance to “create jobs for New Yorkers.”
Alexander gave a number of updates, including some related to the state’s Cannabinoid Hemp Program. As of Tuesday, the state has issued 2,700 hemp licenses, 284 of which are for distributors, 36 processors, 34 for manufacturers, and the “vast majority,” or 2,275, were for retailers.
“We will continue to work in the coming months to ensure the further expansion of the cannabinoid hemp program,” Alexander said.
Sen. Diane Savino, a longtime supporter of cannabis law reform, both medical and adult use, told Cannabis Wire that Tuesday’s meeting brought “improvements.”
“I am thrilled that we are finally seeing real movement here on all things cannabis. But, especially on the long overdue changes to the medical program, starting with the addition of flower product which will be a game changer for patients here in New York,” Savino said.