The seeds have already been planted for what will be the first crop of cannabis sold for adult use in New York later this year. And as for the packaging in which those products will be sold, the state’s cannabis regulators provided a first glimpse this week.
The Office of Cannabis Management released proposed regulations that will determine everything from how adult use cannabis products are tested, to how they are labeled, to how they are marketed to consumers. On Wednesday, the Cannabis Control Board voted to send those regulations to public comment, which closes in 60 days.
“These regulations were selected as the first sections for consideration because they will help ensure our products are safe and tested with appropriate consumer protection,” Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said at the start of the meeting. “We also recognize the need to expand our cannabis laboratory testing capacity within the state to ensure we have third party labs online and ready to properly test regulated cannabis products.”
The Board has been busy in recent weeks. Between April and May, it approved 146 conditional cultivator licenses for existing hemp licensees. These farmers are the first allowed to grow cannabis for adult use, following a bill Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law in February. The Board approved another 16 conditional cultivator licenses at its Wednesday meeting.
Board member Jen Metzger suggested that, given the “timing issue” related to the short growing season in New York State, the board should be “meeting as frequently as possible between now and the end of the month to move applications forward as expeditiously as possible.”
On Tuesday, public comment closed on proposed regulations for conditional dispensary licenses, which are reserved for individuals who have a cannabis conviction, or have a parent or guardian with one.
The regulations released Wednesday are the first for the adult use industry that are not “conditional,” or temporary. They are likely to draw significant public comment, considering each requirement or limit will have a significant impact on a company’s costs and ability to reach consumers.
They define, for example, as “attractive to individuals under twenty-one” the following, for example: “cartoons;” “bubble-type or other cartoon-like font;” “bright colors that are ‘neon’ in appearance;” “any imitation of food, candy, soda, drinks, cookies, or cereal;” and “terms ‘candy’ or ‘candies’ or variants in spelling such as ‘kandy’ or ‘kandeez.’”
Among the limits on packaging, it cannot “contain any pictures, images, or graphics, other than what is required by the Office,” like the cannabinoid (THC, CBD, etc) content, servings, ingredients, the universal symbol for all products, and warning language in a yellow box. It can only include “one brand logo and the brand name.” It cannot “be made of single-use plastic, unless containing a minimum 25% post-consumer recycled content.”
Metzger spoke during the meeting about some of the language included in the proposed regulations that are “intended to clarify and make it easier to pursue re-use and refilling strategies” if license applicants want to go that route.
“We face a climate crisis and we have a real opportunity to get it right from the start rather than repeating the mistakes made elsewhere. And this includes how we approach the packaging of cannabis products,” Metzger said.
As for advertising and marketing, much of the same rules for packaging, like warning language and no neon, for example, apply. It can’t make health claims, and it can’t promote excessive consumption, potency, or discounts. It cannot be in any context unless the licensee can prove that “at least 90%” of “the audience” is “reasonably expected to be twenty-one years of age or older.” And it needs to be 500 feet away from schools, rec centers, playgrounds, libraries, and similar spaces.
Also, the Board voted to allow for an agreement between the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which oversees the state’s criminal records, and cannabis regulators so that the latter could determine whether license applicants meet relevant criteria.
And, the Board voted to allow two of its members to maintain their other public office roles. Metzger is a member of the Ulster County Land Bank Development Corporation, and Erica Stupp is a member of New York State Department of Health Institutional Review Board. Under conflict of interest considerations, such permissions are not guaranteed.