A New York senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.
As it stands under the adult-use legalization law that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed in March, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation on Friday that would push that deadline back one year.
The senator argues that the delay is necessary because Cuomo failed to make key regulatory appointments to oversee the market in a timely manner before resigning amid a sexual harassment scandal. His replacement, newly inaugurated Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), has since nominated two of four regulatory seats she’s been tasked with filling, both of whom were confirmed by the Senate last week.
One will lead the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, while the other will chair the Cannabis Control Board. Hochul’s remaining two appointments to the board will not be subject to Senate confirmation.
The legislature was also tasked with making two appointments for the board. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) announced their picks this week.
Borrello isn’t satisfied with the latest developments, however. He said that local officials who he’s met with have expressed “frustration at the lack of information available on what a legalized market will look like” and need more time.
“Local elected officials are being asked to make important decisions with zero information,” he said in a press release. “It is unfair of the state to maintain the original deadline when implementation of the law is at least six months behind.”
Even if the governor and legislature immediately confirmed the necessary appointments, the senator said “the timeline that was projected in March is no longer feasible.”
“No one benefits by forcing municipalities to make a hasty decision when they still have so many questions about how sales will be regulated,” Borrello said. “Extending the opt-out period is a common sense step. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this effort to give our communities added time to make these important decisions.”
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Advocates aren’t buying the argument, however. And while two more regulatory appointments still need to be made, they say that local lawmakers have clear guidance written into the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) that should effectively guide their decision-making on whether to accept cannabis businesses by the initial December 31 deadline.
“The MRTA is clear about the parameters and principles that will guide New York’s adult-use program,” Melissa Moore, New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “There is no reason to further delay being able to get the program up and running and no excuse for blocking New Yorkers who want to establish cannabis-related small businesses from being able to move forward knowing their municipality will indeed permit their business to operate.”
“As with other businesses, jurisdictions still have a great degree of control over the details of business operation—such as time, place, and manner,” she added. “Legalization of adult-use cannabis has broad support across the state, with one recent poll even showing that people who were opposed to legalization responded that they would likely visit a dispensary following legalization.”
“It’s time to move New York forward into the new era of marijuana justice without further snags and excuses.”
Additionally, lawmakers aren’t even expected to meet again before December 31, meaning that Borrello’s legislation is not likely to have a chance to be enacted in time, though it could theoretically advance later and give localities more time to decide whether to ban marijuana retailers and consumption facilities after the current deadline lapses.
Hochul has made clear that standing up New York’s marijuana market is a priority, and she’s been working with leaders on how to move the process forward.
The governor said at a press conference recently that getting the cannabis industry moving is “very important to me,” adding that naming regulators are among the “long-overdue decisions pertaining to establishing cannabis in the state of New York.”
Under New York’s legalization law, the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority was established and will be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs. It will be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.
The recent appointments are welcome news for advocates who had grown frustrated with Cuomo for slow-walking the appointments. There were serious disagreements between the former administration and lawmakers about who to appoint, but they’re encouraged by the new governor’s moves that signal her administration will be proactive in getting the regulatory infrastructure set up in a timely manner.
Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.
When it comes to Hochul’s overall stance on cannabis policy, she was a consistent advocate for the prior administration’s legalization plan and said the reform was “long overdue” for New York. She also defended Cuomo’s proposal in the face of criticism of various provisions from some advocates, but she told Marijuana Moment in January that there was room for amendments, many of which were made to address activists’ concerns.
While serving as lieutenant governor, Hochul said in an interview with Cheddar that she wants to ensure that the emerging industry is equitable and that “communities of color will understand exactly what’s involved in applying for these licenses as soon as they’re available.”
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