Gov. Kathy Hochul signed far-ranging state budget legislation this week, and it includes cannabis enforcement language that had been intensely negotiated in the Senate and Assembly.
Overall, some of the bill’s stiffer penalties were removed or softened during the three-way negotiations between the governor and the chambers, which happen each year behind closed doors. For example, references to felonies were stricken in the final version, and the fines are lower overall.
New York’s adult use cannabis industry is young, with just nine “justice-involved” retail licensees that have opened their doors since December. They’re up against a deluge of bold, unlicensed cannabis sellers that took over cheap leases during the earlier months of the pandemic. These unlicensed sellers have taken advantage of vans, converted food trucks, and card tables, too.
Many officials and lawmakers have called for “teeth” to curb unregulated cannabis sales, from City Hall to the state legislature.
“As New York State continues to roll out a nation-leading model to establish its cannabis industry, these critical enforcement measures will protect New Yorkers from illicit, unregulated sales,” Hochul said in a statement this week. “Unlicensed dispensaries violate our laws, put public health at risk, and undermine the legal cannabis market. With these enforcement tools, we’re paving the way for safer products, reinvestment in communities that endured years of disproportionate enforcement, and greater opportunities for New Yorkers.”
On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams appeared at a news conference with Hochul, during which they spoke primarily about criminal justice issues.
Adams highlighted unregulated cannabis through the lens of acts of violence in the city.
“This has become a problem throughout the entire state, if not the entire country, and it’s more than just selling illegal cannabis. It is driving some of our robberies in our commercial establishments. It’s driving some of the shootings,” Adams said, referencing shootings at smoke shops that appear to sell unlicensed cannabis.
“It’s a cash only business, so it’s creating its own industry of violence. And by cracking down on the illegal cannabis market, it is going to allow us to really prosper from the work we have done to make sure those who are doing it the legal way are able to grow the cannabis industry in this city,” Adams added.
There are other noteworthy amendments to the cannabis enforcement language. For example, the plan still leans on building owners and lessors, targeting them for penalties for enabling unregulated sales. The final version of the negotiated enforcement language, however, emphasizes a focus on commercial businesses rather than residences.
Also, while the original version of the cannabis enforcement plan set minimum thresholds for fines, the language has been amended to reflect “up to” fine benchmarks.
The next Cannabis Control Board meeting will be held on May 11, during which Hochul flagged that more “justice-involved” licenses, called Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary licenses, are set to be awarded.
Sen. Liz Krueger, who represents a swath of Manhattan’s east side, is one of two main sponsors of the Marihuana Taxation and Regulation Act (MRTA). Krueger introduced a cannabis enforcement bill last year, but it stalled by the end of the session. Krueger told Cannabis Wire that she is “very pleased that we finally have legislation passed and signed to tackle the problem of unlicensed retailers and protect the growing, equity-focused licensed market.”