The chair of a New York Senate cannabis committee says his panel will hold its first public hearing next month to try and identify legislative solutions to the state’s ongoing marijuana legalization implementation problems by bringing regulators, lawmakers, stakeholders and advocates together for a “fair and productive” policy discussion.
Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D), who was appointed to lead the Senate’s first-ever cannabis panel earlier this year, announced the October 30 hearing during a press conference on Thursday. He said that the purpose of the meeting is to “finally address the many challenges that we have seen with the rollout of adult-use cannabis here in New York.”
Frustrations over New York’s cannabis program have compounded over recent months, as regulators have worked to stand up a market that prioritizes social equity, awarding conditional licenses to people who’ve been most impacted by prohibition. The process has been slow—and illicit cannabis businesses have proliferated in the interim. Meanwhile, lawsuits have temporarily halted licensing, further complicating the issue.
Cooney acknowledged that “it is no secret that the state’s path to adult-use cannabis has been met with a number of challenges,” and he said “one of the most important jobs that we have as state lawmakers is legislative oversight.”
— Senator Jeremy Cooney (@SenatorCooney) September 7, 2023
“We have a responsibility to work with our governor and our state agencies to ensure that our collective goals are met,” he said. “And New Yorkers themselves deserve transparency when it comes to their government on what has been done so far.”
While the senator said that the meeting next month before the 12-member Senate Subcommittee on Cannabis is primarily meant to be part of a “fact-finding” process, he told Marijuana Moment that “we will hopefully identify specific public policy needs [and] legislation in the hearing process. That’s why it’s important that we do it now, this fall, before we convene in Albany.”
He also said that “my expectation is that hopefully by the time this hearing takes place in Albany, we will see a path forward for the non-conditional licenses applications” for people who do not qualify as social equity business owners.
“This is important that we move on this—and we need to make sure that we have the full picture of what is needed to be able to advance legislation, whether it’s coming through my office or one of my colleagues’,” Cooney said. “So this will be this will be part of that process, and we will generate recommendations of the policy report at the conclusion of the hearing.”
Witnesses for the hearing—which comes as existing medical cannabis businesses have been increasingly agitating to enter the state’s adult-use market—haven’t been listed yet, but the chairman said that he doesn’t want it to simply be government officials and lawmakers in the room. It’s intended to “involve the cannabis community at large,” including those who’ve faced challenges entering the market. Cooney stressed, though, that he will not allow the hearing “to be used as an opportunity to air personal grievances or attack individuals or agencies.”
The hearing will also be held in conjunction with the chairs of the Senate Agriculture, Finance and Investigations & Government Operations Committees.
“I understand that this is a very frustrating, confusing, fast-moving time for both potential consumers and those invested in the adult use-market,” Cooney said. “Remember that it was about a year ago today that the [conditional adult-use retail dispensary] program was first launched in New York—and here we are all these months later, very unsatisfied with its outcome.”
“I hear the concern of these voices and I understand that they have communities that they have to be accountable for, and we want to give them an opportunity to be able to share their stories and, hopefully more importantly, learn from their experiences,” the senator said. “But we need to take action and as a legislature [and] as the state Senate.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said on Thursday that the forthcoming Senate Subcommittee on Cannabis hearing, conducted in collaboration with the Finance, Agriculture, and IGO Committees, is “another step in our commitment to a responsible and equitable retail cannabis market in New York State.”
The Cannabis Association of New York said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant, and more transparency will help us all turn the New York legal cannabis around before it’s too late.”
“This hearing will provide the valuable opportunity to explore how we got here and record those learned lessons through this hearing’s transcripts,” the association said. “However, understanding the past is only one piece of the puzzle; we need clarity on what the future holds.”
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One step that regulators have taken to try and fill supply and demand gaps as the rollout continues is authorizing cannabis farmers markets, where retail licensees partner with growers to sell products at open-market events.
Separately, New York City officials announced in July that they’re seeking lenders to support a marijuana equity fund that will promote participation in the industry by people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by criminalization.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) administration is also stepping up its push to transition people to the legal market, despite the bottlenecking of getting approved retailer licensees launched so far.
That included launching a public education campaign in April encouraging adults to buy their marijuana from licensed shops to ensure that products are safe and that revenue is used to advance equity and reinvestment goals.
Officials did announce in March that they are doubling the number of conditional adult-use marijuana licenses that can be approved, from 150 to 300, after receiving feedback from certain applicants that they would be able to more expeditiously open storefronts without additional support through a state program designed to help eligible entities create physical locations.
The governor also recently introduced legislation to increase enforcement authority to crack down on illicit marijuana retailers as the state struggles to stand up the regulated adult-use market.
The New York Senate also approved a bill in June that would provide tax relief to New York City marijuana businesses that are currently blocked from making federal deductions under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.
While Hochul signed a budget bill last year that included provisions allow state-level cannabis business tax deductions—a partial remedy to the ongoing federal issue—New York City has its own tax laws that weren’t affected by that change.