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Hochul Promises Progress on New York Legalization After Delays

August 31, 2021

Now that Kathy Hochul has been sworn in as the new governor of New York, there are renewed hopes that the state will make progress toward implementing an operational cannabis market following legalization this past spring. The process has been stalled for months because Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, failed to nominate his picks to lead the Cannabis Control Board, which prevented the new office from becoming operational. Cuomo, according to widespread reports, held back his nominations as collateral damage for the legislature’s rejection of his nominees for unrelated Transit Authority positions.

Hochul has pledged to fill the vacancies on the Cannabis Control Board. “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 Governor Hochul,” said Hochul’s spokesperson Jordan Bennett. “We look forward to working with the Legislature to keep this process moving forward.”

Hochul will nominate three members of the five-person board, including the chair, with the state senate and assembly each appointing one member. A separate advisory board also must be filled, with Hochul responsible for seven of the thirteen seats and the legislature overseeing the remainder. Complicating matters is the fact that the legislative year has already ended, meaning a special session would need to be called to approve the nominations before next year.

States have made significant progress trimming the timeline between legalization and the implementation of sales since Washington and Colorado took two full years on the process and the political landscape has shifted as well. Nonetheless, the four months of lost time caused by the delayed appointments are a disappointment to those hoping that New York might match New Jersey’s goal of launching sales a year after legalization. Amid the uncertainties of the pandemic, it is a blow to see such a sure-fire stimulus to the economy and state funding neglected.

It’s also a major challenge to independent growers who’ve taken advantage of New York’s liberal approach to hemp farming upstate now pondering a shift to THC-producing plants. Under New York law all medical cannabis must be produced in greenhouses to ensure health and safety standards. In the absence of guidance from the Cannabis Control Board, it remains unknown whether outdoor grows will be permitted for recreational cannabis, creating uncertainty for smaller producers about how to allocate capital.—Danny Sullivan

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