It’s no secret that New York lawmakers set very high equity benchmarks for legal cannabis. And a theme of Thursday’s first meeting of the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board was how to build upon that groundwork for how equity will take shape in the Big Apple.
The short meeting consisted mostly of an overview of the purpose of the Advisory Board, and of introductions by the group’s diverse membership.
The Board, regulators hope, will bring wide ranging perspectives to the table to help regulators and lawmakers continue to craft rules for the forthcoming adult use industry. The 13 members, appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Senate and Assembly, are from all over the state and specialize in public and behavioral health, substance use disorder treatment, housing, economic development, environmental conservation, job training, law enforcement and criminal justice and drug policy.
The Board will also “govern and administer” the disbursement of the New York State community grants reinvestment fund, which will be supported by 40% of the state’s cannabis revenues, with the remaining 60% going toward drug treatment and prevention programs and public schools.
These grants will not be allocated to individuals, but rather toward nonprofits and community-based organizations that provide job training, continuing adult education programs, and economic development projects.
In the words of Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander, these grants will “help revitalize communities across the state that were most impacted by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.”
“It’s a big task, as we open up the industry and the funds supporting these grants begin to flow,” Alexander said. “I look forward to a strong partnership and delivering these assets to our neighbors.”
Top of mind for New Yorkers is: will the first legal adult use cannabis sales take place this year, as expected? Alexander didn’t give any specific update, but said that “as for the industry opening up, we’re moving as quickly as we can while also taking the time to make sure we’re doing it the right way.”
More than 200 farmers, many of whom were distressed hemp farmers that managed to survive multiple difficult growing seasons and market conditions, have planted the cannabis that regulators say will hit the shelves before New Yorkers ring in 2023. The people running the shops that will sell this harvest will be conditional use retail dispensary license holders. These license holders are people who qualify because they (or someone in their immediate family) have a cannabis-related record and because they have business experience.
“These first equity entrepreneurs will then generate the revenue that will help us develop tools to support equity applicants across all license types as we continue to ramp up the industry. That’s how we’re getting started,” Alexander said.
Alexander also mentioned that the group will hear a presentation from the Inspector General in the coming weeks “concerning all of our responsibilities and obligations and interactions with our organizations as well as this organization, so we can keep things ethically inappropriate.”
One of the Board members, Allan Gandelman, president and founder of The New York State Growers and Processors Association, said that the group’s name will soon change to become the Cannabis Association of New York.
“We don’t only represent growers and processors anymore. That was kind of in the early days. And now we have representation across all sectors of the industry,” Gandelman said.
Russell Oliver, director of the Division of Employment Workforce Solutions for the Department of Labor in Albany, said that the DOL is “so excited” to be part of the Board and outlined the Department’s Cannabis, Employment and Education Development Unit, which they’ve been working on for six months.
The DOL has also been educating staff and job seekers about business opportunities in the cannabis industry, and “working closely” with the OCM on “what we want to see out of the board,” Oliver said.
Oliver said that one of the DOL’s “challenges” is that they’re federally funded.
“We have talked to our federal partners about what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Oliver said. “We really want to see a way where we can come up with training in the industry” and “how we can support that and how we can support business development.”