New York regulators have launched the state’s first public education campaign ahead of the launch of legal adult use sales. It aims to communicate to New Yorkers how the plant’s criminalization has changed, and plenty about the plant itself, such as how consumption might make someone feel.
Cannabis regulators and lawmakers stressed on Monday during a news conference that the “Cannabis Conversations” public education campaign is a “first” step.
One of the biggest challenges facing regulators will be how to curb the existing unregulated market, which has become more visible in this time period after legal cannabis became law and before sales are ready to go live. Regulators said on Monday that they hope that through education, New Yorkers will choose the forthcoming regulated adult use market, which will sell tested cannabis through licensed shops.
Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, said “there’s law enforcement action coming” against the unlicensed cannabis sellers who have popped up across the state. Most seek to exploit a loophole in the law that allows for cannabis to be “gifted,” an arrangement in which a consumer purchases, say, a sticker, and is given cannabis for free.
OCM has issued cease and desist letters to 52 of these sellers, OCM spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman told Cannabis Wire. But now, regulators are stepping up the pressure.
“New York State is building a legal, regulated cannabis market that will ensure products are tested and safe for consumers while providing opportunities for those from communities most impacted by the over criminalization of cannabis prohibition — illegal operations undermine our ability to do that,” Ghitelman added. “We encourage New Yorkers not to partake in illicit sales where products may not be safe and we will continue to work to ensure that New Yorkers have a pathway to sell legally in the new industry.”
Ghitelman reiterated that non-medical sales remain illegal because the market hasn’t yet launched, and as such “we will work with our partners to enforce the law.”
“We have other enforcement mechanisms that we’re now reviewing and seeing which is going to be most efficient, again, to make sure that we curb this behavior,” Alexander said.
Alexander also said that regulators learned a lot from the recent statewide events during which Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board within the OCM, spoke to, and fielded questions from, New Yorkers. (This outreach tour was also called “Cannabis Conversations.”)
“So much of the work to end cannabis prohibition in the state is focused on fighting back the misnomers and misinformation and stigma that’s now heavily laid in our communities,” Alexander said, which have “really have created quite a bit of confusion about the cannabis plant.”
The new public education campaign’s efforts also include goals to reduce youth use and consumption during pregnancy, and also to provide information about the new opportunities in the cannabis industry.
Officials showed some of the ads, which focused on frequently asked questions, like the legal age of consumption, which is 21 years-old.
“If you choose to smoke cannabis, do it away from other people,” the ad said.
Allan Clear, director of the Office of Drug User Health at the New York State Department of Health, said that recent research shows that secondhand smoke can be harmful to bystanders. Cannabis Wire recently reported about a study published in JAMA Network Open during which University of California, Berkeley researchers suggested that cannabis bong smoking at home generated four times the amount of fine particulate matter concentrations than both cigarette and tobacco hookah smoking.
“Just like tobacco, we don’t want your decision to smoke cannabis to force upon others by putting your secondhand smoke in their faces,” Clear said.
Assemblymember Inez Dickens, who represents an area of Manhattan that includes parts of Harlem and Morningside Heights, highlighted the state’s goal to allocate 50% of licenses to equity applicants.
“To achieve this goal, though, we must first and foremost ensure safety. Safety is prime. That includes educating the public on the cannabis law and on cannabis itself,” Dickens said. “With this campaign, every New Yorker will hear and see and be able to understand the facts and have the chance to learn more.”
Since lawmakers passed the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), the cannabis legalization bill that former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last March, the unregulated market has been thriving in the state, from New York City to Albany and many places in between. Pop-up stores have opened in New York City, where cannabis is also sold out of vans that look like food trucks, for example.
Chinazo Cunningham, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that as a practicing physician in the Bronx and in New York City for 25 years, and also as a mother of three daughters, she knows that “cannabis is already in our communities.”
Cunningham said that what’s been needed are “tools” so parents can have conversations with their children, and so physicians can have more informed conversations with patients.
“We need these tools to be clear and to be based on science so that everybody can understand, really, the truth about cannabis,” Cunningham said, adding that candy-infused with cannabis has popped up in the state, along with marketing that appears targeted toward kids.
“This campaign is more important now than ever, as we know that the illicit cannabis market has been growing.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from OCM spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman.