Emotions ran high at the July 19th meeting of the New York Office of Cannabis Management’s (OCM) Cannabis Control Board (CCB). From the wild applause at the news that 212 more justice-impacted entrepreneurs were getting retail licenses, to the tears of some license winners who said they never thought a legal career in cannabis would be possible, to the anger of those who vented frustrations with the state government’s slow approach to transitioning the cannabis industry, there was a lot to process.
New York's Cannabis Control Board Introduces Board Member Hope Knight
First, the high notes - and there were many at this pivotal meeting. CCB Chair Tremaine Wright introduced Hope Knight, who made her public debut as a Board member. As President, CEO, and Commissioner of Empire State Development, New York’s principal economic development public-benefit organization, Knight has expertise that aligns well with the CCB’s mission. She was appointed to the Board in June and her fellow members expressed their great anticipation for her contributions.
New York's Office Of Cannabis Management And Cannabis Control Board Award 212 New Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) Licenses
Attention then quickly turned to the star of the morning’s agenda: Awarding 212 additional CAURD licenses. The OCM developed the Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license primarily for entrepreneurs who have been personally affected by cannabis-related convictions. Though the agency originally planned to give out only 150 CAURD licenses, they expanded that number to 300 earlier this year and now, with today’s latest announcements, have granted a total of 463 thus far.
"The provisional approval of today’s 212 CAURD licenses by the Cannabis Control Board marks a momentous leap forward in our pursuit of an inclusive and fair cannabis industry,” said Chair Tremaine Wright. “These licensees are demonstrative of the innovation and diversity of New York State.”
OCM’s Executive Director Chris Alexander hinted that more CAURD licenses would be still to come before the end of the summer. In answer to Board member Jessica Garcia’s question about the financial and business resources available to CAURD applicants, however, Alexander did explain that only the first round of 150 license holders were guaranteed access to capital through the government. Other licensees may not have this guarantee, even if they are in the CAURD category. But he did seem optimistic that OCM would eventually be able to extend some form of support to increasing numbers of licensees.
Regardless of what lies ahead financially for the license winners, many of those who saw their names flash across the screen at the meeting were ecstatic. Cheers and applause broke out through the room for a solid minute before Chair Wright was able to declare the new licensees official. Members of the prominent lifestyle brand Happy Munkey high-fived and embraced each other; their co-founders, Vladimir Bautista and Ramon Reyes, both won licenses. During the later Public Comment period, Howell Miller of Two Buds Enterprises would share an awe-filled gratitude for being able to experience such a moment with his community. Nubia Ashley became overwhelmed by tears while trying to convey what this opportunity meant to her, prompting her husband to help her out with a reassuring kiss. Mark Robinson of Robinson's Cannabis Flowers appeared with his brother and sister; all three siblings have been convicted of cannabis charges through the years. When Robinson’s brother Steve struggled to speak because he was overcome by emotion, Mark exhorted, “Please take your time to show your pain!” and invoked their father, who he’d said was so proud to see his children achieve something in the cannabis space.
Cannabis Growers' Showcase Initiative Approved For New York Cultivators To Sell Direct To Consumers
In another victory, the CCB approved the Cannabis Growers’ Showcase (CGS) initiative, a measure that allows cultivators to partner with conditional adult-use retailers and processors across New York to organize events for showcasing local brands and selling adult-use cannabis products to consumers. CGS is a first-of-its-kind project that seeks to provide the state’s farmers with new ways to sell their products directly to different demographics, helping them to make use of cannabis that hasn’t yet been able to make it to retail stores.
“This is a chance for the consumers to meet the growers and manufacturers who make the products they are consuming,” enthused John Kagia, OCM’s Director of Policy. He called the move “a win for our consumers… for our farmers [and] for our retailers.”
As described by CCB and OCM personnel, the implementation of the Cannabis Growers’ Showcase is a crucial next step in expanding New York’s cannabis market, and will accrue important benefits to growers, retailers, and consumers. Not only does it allow farmers to process and sell their crops much faster, it enables consumers to have legal access to cannabis in parts of the state that currently do not have dispensaries. In addition, the markup a retailer may charge will be capped, thus ensuring prices remain competitive for consumers. Each CGS event will feature a minimum of three Adult-Use Conditional Cultivators, partnering with a licensed adult-use dispensary to sell licensed and tested cannabis products to customers. These events are only allowed in municipalities that allow for retail cannabis sales, and must have a predominantly adult population. Only New Yorkers age 21 and over may purchase cannabis and cannabis products. For every three cultivators with an adult-use retailer selling products at these events, one processor will also be able to sell their value-added products like edibles, drinkables and vape cartridges. To ensure compliance and adherence to regulations, CGS participants are required to obtain municipal approval unless the event is held at a licensed retail dispensary where cannabis sales typically occur.
Yet Board member Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins warned that the seeming “value add” of allowing processors to participate in the showcases might be a “slippery slope.” “We want to directly help the growers as much as possible,” she emphasized, reminding everyone that the state’s cannabis farmers have been distressed and negatively impacted by the slow rollout of New York’s licensed dispensaries. “50 percent of our [state’s] sales have been flower. At a growers’ showcase, I am not going there for gummies. I am going there for flower and we have to be true to the nature of the product.”
After some lengthy debate about how to address Gilbert Jenkins’s concerns in the regulations, the CCB agreed to revisit the initiative near the end of the meeting. When they came back to it, all were unanimous in their support for a Cannabis Growers’ Showcase that puts cultivators at the forefront.
Office Of Cannabis Management's Latest Regulations And Expansive RISE Strategy
Other measures approved in the meeting included the addition of a new cannabis lab testing facility in Coral Reef Laboratories, the state’s fifteenth. New proposed regulations for medical cannabis featured more attention to terpene education and reporting, language to allow bulk dispensing of medical cannabis products by dispensary pharmacists, and technical fixes and updates to conform with the adult-use market in packaging, labeling and advertising. The CCB also finalized regulations governing licenses for researchers to produce, process, purchase and/or possess cannabis for limited research purposes. According to the OCM’s Director of Health and Safety Nicole Quackenbush, thanks to these regulations, “New York State will have the opportunity to lead the country in the advancement of cannabis science and break the stigma surrounding it.”
Reporting on the overall "state of the state," Director of Policy John Kagia mentioned that 20 licensed adult-use dispensaries have opened thus far, and unveiled the Retail Integrated System Expansion (RISE) Strategy, a plan which will holistically and critically address the backlogs in New York's supply chain. This includes the multiple prongs of continuing to expand CAURD, creating options for farmers through CGS, facilitate location siting for business owners, stimulate research opportunities, increase enforcement, and educate the public.
"We speak to a lot of New Yorkers for whom this is a brave new world," Kagia noted. "The hard work is just beginning... [but soon we'll have] New York-grown and manufactured product to consumers around the state."
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: New York Enforcement Through Office Of Cannabis Management
In more controversial news, the CCB approved emergency extensions for the OCM’s enforcement measures. Since Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation in May that allows for both the OCM and New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct regulatory inspections on unlicensed shops, enforcing penalties that range from heavy fees to seizure of product and forcing store closures, the two agencies have been focused on addressing the issue of illicit businesses across the state. Chris Alexander reported that the OCM has conducted 53 official inspections of unlicensed stores so far, which has resulted in seizure of over $11 million in untested cannabis products.
“We’re doing this for you,” he reiterated to the crowd attending the meeting in person. Speaking to the CAURD licensees, he added, “Many of you have run illicit businesses previously. But you decided to wait, to come into this process to give it a go. We are committed to your success, which requires that we take this action against folks who’ve decided that they don’t care about the broader principles of this movement.”
There was certainly support for Alexander’s and the government’s stance on the matter, as during the Public Comment period Assemblymember Harvey Epstein of the 74th District (Lower East Side and Midtown East) expressed that unlicensed shops are siphoning business away from licensed retailers, creating an unsafe environment for consumers. Other commenters, like new CAURD licensee and longtime cannabis innovator Jessica Naissant, founder of Long Island’s seminal Wake and Bake Cafe, urged that social equity continue to be front and center so that bad actors like some owners of unlicensed businesses would be stopped and those impacted the most by the War on Drugs would be supported.
“I created my own legacy,” Naissant stated. “I’m ready to get to work.”
Some have expressed concerns over how OCM and the Department of Taxation and Finance are handling the enforcement actions. Recent reports of store raids from the Five Boroughs to the Finger Lakes and various parts of Central and Upstate New York have included details of aggressive standoffs, arrests for obstruction, and in some cases involvement of local police forces. Community members watching the fallout have wondered if this is just a new iteration of prohibition-era criminalization. Time will tell what a difference the measures really make.
What Support Should New York's Office Of Cannabis Management Give Those In The Industry?
Of more pressing issue to many present to give Public Comment at the meeting were the OCM and CCB’s policies toward support and education for those in the legal space. Naomy Guerrero, co-founder of the CAURD-licensed Nube NYC, delivered an impassioned speech about the Black community’s lack of access to capital and called for the government to prioritize financing for license holders of color. “I need that cash now!” she shouted to thunderous applause.
Nicole Ricci of NY Small Farma (the Cannabis Farmers Alliance), which advocates for licensed small cultivators, spoke out against the plans for large Registered Organizations (ie, corporate medical dispensary brands) to enter New York’s adult-use market later in the year. She argued that OCM’s current plan allocates an additional 1 million acres for these organizations to cultivate, among other things, and their expanded presence will cause market prices to plummet and squeeze out small businesses.
Community organizer Pilar DeJesus of All That Jive NYC and TakeRoot Justice shared criticism over some of the government’s communication methods, like timing most of the regulations to release shortly before last year’s holidays and the budgets not reflecting several key OCM talking points. “I see there’s no money for technical assistance, there’s no incubator programs,” she asserted. “The Governor has given the Buffalo Bills more money than she has given to cannabis education… because they needed a new stadium. Where are the reparations for us? I don’t see it… In the city, the revenue is over $200,000 and I have not seen any money go to education.”
At the meeting’s conclusion, there were still many questions to be answered, discussions to be had. There were those ready to celebrate, and most fired up to get down to business. It was certainly a day of bold actions and impressive moments. But it will take a village to move destiny forward the right way. We continue to have faith in our New York cannabis community to achieve greatness. As Dasheeda Dawson, Founding Director of Cannabis NYC, so often says, “The work continues.”
What do you think about the revised regulations and the topics discussed at the CCB meeting? Tell us about it - reach out at @honeysucklemagazine on Instagram and @HoneysuckleMag on Twitter!
For more information about New York State's cannabis industry, visit cannabis.ny.gov.
Introducing Honeysuckle's Retail Dispensary Round-Up!
For years Team Honeysuckle has been reporting on key figures, organizations, and actions within the cannabis industry that have been crucial to both its evolution and cultural significance. We've watched many current CAURD licensees and other leaders in New York's legal space blossom from the very beginning. Now, stay tuned for more real-time updates as we launch our weekly Retail Dispensary Round-Up, a regular recap of openings, events, and developments at our state's licensed retail operations. If you have CAURD-related news or other dispensary updates you'd like to share, DM us at @honeysucklemagazine on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Curious about the CAURD licensees on the famous stairs in this article's cover photo? You'll learn more about this unique photoshoot in The Bronx, organized by Hilary Yu and Tess Melody of Our Dream (Our Academy), in our next print edition.
Photography: Sam C. Long @tissuekulture
Creative Direction: Mary Pryor @iammarypryor
Production: Ronit Pinto @honey_ronit
Behind The Scenes Photo/Video: Zetta @shotby.ze
Community Coordination: Ash @alittle.ash
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Featured image: 40 New York Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license holders gather on the famous Bronx steps, used in films such as 2019's JOKER (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture