In 2023, New York cannabis regulators are continuing their push 3 to “solve old problems,” as Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander put it during a meeting on Wednesday.
Those problems are related to the impact that the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws had on communities of color, which was a topic of focus during the meeting of the Cannabis Control Board, the body that sits within the Office.
The meeting came as New York’s second licensed adult use shop, Smacked, LLC, made its first legal sale on Tuesday. Roland Conner, owner of Smacked, was among the first batch of Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary licenses awarded in November, which are licenses reserved for “justice-involved” individuals.
The Board approved another 30 licenses on Wednesday, in areas that include the Capital Region, the North Country, Long Island, and Central New York.
Noticeably absent were areas including Brooklyn and Buffalo, as these regions are among five that are tied up in a lawsuit over residency requirements. Board member Adam Perry briefly talked about how that case is blocking the Board from approving CAURD licenses in those areas.
“We want to do those. The Office has reviewed the applications and scored them, but we can’t actually give them out until the legal issue is resolved,” Perry said. “The only reason we’re waiting for those is because of the federal court ruling… I think that’s significant and I want the public to know that.”
Board member Reuben McDaniel, also the head of the Dormitory Authority, gave a brief update on how this lawsuit factors into the effort to secure leases for CAURD licensees, as DASNY oversees the public-private fund that is aiming to raise $200 million to provide them with turnkey shops.
“We do continue to look for locations in the injunction zone areas, obviously taking a slower approach there. But when the injunction is lifted, at whatever point it is, we will be ready to also sign leases in the locations as well,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel also praised the opening of Smacked, which has received support from the fund, and added that the next several locations supported by the fund will open in the next 45 days in Queens, Albany, and another in Manhattan. (The first adult use shop to open in New York, Housing Works Cannabis Co., did not receive support from the fund, as non-profit applicants are not eligible.)
McDaniel said the move to allow CAURD licensees to choose between a turnkey storefront provided to them, or to use their own properties, added “some complexity to the work that we’re doing.”
“It’s also demonstrated to us that we have a lot of CAURD licensees that have resources of their own and some CAURD licensees that would prefer to be in a more boutique area than to be in kind of the major areas,” McDaniel said. “We’re very excited that the retail real estate component of this is actually being accelerated.”
McDaniel did not specify how many leases have been signed to-date, or the timeline for completing the $200 million public-private social equity fund.
“I’ve been very hesitant to negotiate and talk about this in public because it’s very difficult with sensitive retail location negotiations going on, as well as fund raising negotiations going on. We’ve talked to a lot of significant investors,” McDaniel said. “We’re doing a lot of this – I don’t want to say behind the scenes because it’s not behind the scenes– but a lot of it has to be carefully and delicately negotiated for various reasons. So I wish I could tell you more.”
McDaniel added that the Dormitory Authority will have “some significant funding available for the first 100 to 150 licensees to open up.”
McDaniel suggested that the Board “may want to go beyond” the initial benchmark of 150 CAURD licensees.
“I think there’s the opportunity for us to find those licensees who have resources of their own who may want to be in locations that are not fund-appropriate,” McDaniel said.
During a public comment period, Coss Marte, co-founder of the CAURD Coalition, expressed disappointment that he didn’t see his name on the list of approved CAURD licensees. He encouraged the Board to release the full scores of CAURD applicants.
“Give us our scores. Let us know what our grade is,” Marte said.
One area that has created some confusion for lawmakers, policy makers, regulators, and members of law enforcement, is the proliferation of unlicensed sales, especially in New York City. Which sellers are folks blatantly flouting the law, and which ones are legacy operators seeking a legitimate path to legal sales?
Scheril Murray Powell, who runs the JUSTÜS Foundation, an organization focused on helping legacy operators enter the legal market, chairs the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee for the ASTM International, an international standards organization, spoke during the public comment period.
“We have heard from regulators across the country and OCM that, with the recognition of legacy, what is difficult is: how do we define it?” Murray Powell said, adding that she introduced in an ASTM International committee a definition for legacy operators for “global adoption.”
Tremaine Wright, chair of the CCB, announced that Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins, an associate professor of agriculture at Morrisville State College, had been appointed by the Senate to fill the Board seat of Jen Metzger, who moved on after the election. Metzger is now the Ulster County Executive. Also during the meeting, Alexander proposed Linda Baldwin as general counsel, which the Board approved. Baldwin most recently served as the general counsel for the Department of State.
The Board also approved a resolution on medical cannabis regulations, which didn’t include “substantial changes,” according to Nicole Quackenbush, the director of health and safety for OCM. The rules essentially streamline the patient application process. One example: previously, patients who received a doctor’s recommendation then had to register with the state, but now they will be “auto-registered,” which means they can go directly to a medical cannabis shop with the doctor’s note, similar to the speed with which a prescription at a pharmacy might be filled.
There were some updates to the state’s efforts to combat impaired driving, which includes a major advertising campaign aimed at encouraging consumers to get a ride or stay put if they’re impaired, as well as an increase in the number of Drug Recognition Efforts.