New York’s cannabis program is moving full steam ahead to address key components of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA). On Tuesday, the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) for the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) convened for its first official meeting of 2022, giving updates on topics such as medical marijuana accessibility for which the public has been anxiously waiting.
New York’s $200 Million Social Equity Fund
Arguably the biggest announcement was the confirmation of a $200 million public-private equity fund for social equity, which Governor Kathy Hochul outlined in her State of the State plan earlier in the month. Although CCB Chair Tremaine Wright had alluded to the fund’s enormous potential before, the January 25thsession, featuring a presentation by Board member Reuben McDaniel III, formally clarified the plan’s goals and funding resources.
The fund will focus on the cannabis program’s social equity entrepreneurs, applicants, and communities adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. It will draw some money from industry revenue, such as licensing fees, but it will also be fueled by private sources, providing capital that can be given more directly to social equity applicants.
“This will allow us to assist so that our social equity applicants who are interested in retail licenses have the funding they need for capital improvements to open their facilities in a timely manner,” McDaniel said during his presentation. He emphasized that the fund will make it possible for these entrepreneurs to “get into business in a way that other states have not achieved.”
Social Equity Concerns: How Will New York Structure the Program?
As Chair Wright had previously described to Honeysuckle, the public-private nature of the fund will mean that in some cases, entrepreneurs will be able to receive business loans before the state begins collecting taxes on the cannabis industry. This setup provides for much more flexibility in how the Office of Cannabis Management can support social equity applicants with entrepreneurial training, financial assistance, and the ability to employ a local workforce. Funds are currently slated to go to efforts for the leasing, design, construction and other needs in establishing cannabis retail businesses. Additionally, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) will deliver a range of services to aid social equity applicants.
Within the MRTA, regulators must “actively promote applicants from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, and promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.” This would encompass minority or women-owned businesses, veterans, and “distressed farmers.” According to the Times-Union, multiple bills in the Legislature are looking to expand the state’s definition of equity for other groups, specifically individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
When Will Dispensaries Be Open for Business in New York?
As per official communications, adult-use dispensaries won't be operational until 2023. But medical dispensaries are currently open, and you can find out more information on the medical marijuana program by visiting the Office of Cannabis Management's website at cannabis.ny.gov.
When Will License Applications Become Available in New York?
No formal date has been set, as the OCM and CCB are still gathering data. However, license applications will likely be available by the end of Summer 2022.
New York State Medical Marijuana Eligibility Expanded
In other news, the CCB explained new initiatives to further New York’s medical cannabis program. OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander reported that clinicians within the state will now be allowed to certify patients to use medical marijuana as treatment for any condition at their discretion, a huge government-assisted boost to public accessibility. This decision abolishes New York's list of previous qualifying condition so that more medical patients can be easily registered. There are currently approximately 150,000 registered medical marijuana patients in the state.
He also announced that the department has launched a Medical Cannabis Data Management System, which is intended to streamline the user experience for both patients and clinicians. The system went live on the Office of Cannabis Management’s website this week and will be constantly updated to reflect changes to data and regulations.
Alexander recapped the steps the Office of Cannabis Management has taken since Fall 2021 to ensure the medical cannabis program’s success. Patients can now purchase whole flower, in addition to oils and edibles, and the $50 fee for a medical marijuana card has been waived.
What’s the Status of Home Cannabis Cultivation in New York?
However, neither Alexander nor the Board members detailed the precise status of home cultivation, an issue of urgent necessity for many in the cannabis community. The Executive Director did confirm that the period for public comment on homegrow has passed, and that the Office of Cannabis Management and CCB will review the feedback before putting forward their official stipulations on the matter.
Per the OCM’s website: “The home cultivation of cannabis plants may only be permitted after the Office of Cannabis Management issues regulations governing home cultivation of cannabis, which must be no later than 18 months after the first adult-use retail sale.” With those retail sales not set to go live until 2023, aspiring home cultivators will likely need to wait awhile.
How Many New York Municipalities Opted Out of the Cannabis Program?
Finally, Alexander noted that the period for municipalities to opt out of the cannabis program has now closed, meaning that any city, town or village in the state of New York which hasn’t formally refused participation in the program is considered to be in. (Localities choosing to opt out can choose to opt in at any time.)
Marijuana Opt-Out Tracker
Data shows that statewide, 522 municipalities have decided to opt out of medical cannabis, adult-use retail or both – but don’t despair. That figure translates to approximately 34 percent of New York’s communities overall. What that actually portends for cannabis consumers and businesses is that the Empire State has a 66 percent participation rate, one of the highest in the nation. (By comparison, California barely passed 60 percent in its municipal participation, and some localities are now backtracking on their opt-ins.)
What's Next for Recreational Weed? The OCM Presents Cannabis Conversations
As the Office of Cannabis Management and CCB look to the future of legal cannabis in New York, they will be engaging the public in a series of regional discussions called “Cannabis Conversations.” These virtual sessions, including one Spanish-language event, will be held throughout the next several weeks so that communities from various parts of the state can be heard. The first conversation, for Western New York, begins January 27 at 6PM EST. Dates, registration information, and public-access links for all Cannabis Conversations can be found here.
Stay tuned for more updates on New York’s cannabis program, including our exclusive conversation with CCB Chair Tremaine Wright in our Black History Month print edition, featuring Wiz Khalifa!
For more information on the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, visit cannabis.ny.gov.
Featured image: Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander (C) Office of Cannabis Management of the State of New York