With barely one week into her new position, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has pledged to jumpstart the rollout of the recreational cannabis program her disgraced predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, had signed into law. While Cuomo’s legalization initiative indeed set the stage for an estimated $5 billion statewide cannabis industry, nevertheless he stalled the process earlier this year, presumably as spite for the legislature’s rejection of his choice for executive director of the newly-formed Cannabis Control Board.
According to Governor Hochul’s press spokesperson, “Nominating and confirming individuals with diverse experiences and subject-matter expertise, who are representative of communities from across the state, to the Cannabis Control Board is a priority for Gov. Hochul.” The state is eager to catch up to New Jersey, which recently released its initial rules for its own recreational cannabis program. Moreover, Hochul faces a general election in November for a full term, and considers this to be a popular undertaking.
Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, says “It’s about time. New Yorkers have been clear that cannabis is a critical criminal justice issue that the administration should be prioritizing. And they’ve also been clear that they want to see the communities that have been most impacted governing the new market and the larger regulatory institution. It makes sense, since women were at the forefront of leading this reform that the first women governor would be the one to get it done.”
When legislation was initially signed, the projected start date for New York’s program was Spring 2022. To make up for the five month delay under Cuomo, Governor Hochul has the option to speed things up by letting existing medical providers be the first to provide recreational sales — but there’s a catch.
Nine out of New York State’s ten medical cannabis providers are multi-state operators, which could seemingly undermine the state’s stated commitment to diversity. (For this paean to the big publicly-traded cannabis companies, local advocates have Andrew Cuomo to thank.) Specifically, New York wants the new recreational operators to include small businesses, new entrepreneurs, people with past marijuana convictions, and even what they euphemistically call “legacy operators” — people formerly involved in illegal street sales. Plus, they want to see 50% of the new recreational licenses issued to social and economic equity applicants.
So it seems likely that the program will not meet its original timetable, delayed perhaps until 2023. New Jersey, on the other hand, will launch its program later this year or early in 2022, once its own regulatory agency is effectively operating.