Representatives from the state cannabis management office visited Community Board 8’s public safety committee last Tuesday to deliver a crash course on the state’s tiered system for issuing recreational adult use cannabis licenses.
Committee members, who were wondering how they fit in, received a broad overview of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act and the numerous regulations the office of cannabis management has subsequently drawn up.
Nearly two years after the law was passed in March 2021, the first legal sales of recreational cannabis have begun to take place in New York, but the regulated market is not exactly off to the races.
“We are doing this in New York State unlike so many other states,” intergovernmental affairs manager Pascale Bernard impressed upon the committee.
The social equity goals of New York’s cannabis law make it unique. State legislators also said no to vertical integration, limiting the cannabis marketplace to small and mid-sized companies.
But the public safety committee’s most burning questions — about the city’s robust and increasingly flagrant unregulated cannabis marketplace — were left largely unanswered.
The office of cannabis management has an enforcement team that has been working with law enforcement and district attorneys to crack down on illegal stores, said intergovernmental outreach manager Phillip Rumsey. They can issue cease and desist letters and aid in investigations, which Rumsey said are ramping up.
“A recent example of this is that OCM and the New York City sheriff got together and we were able to impound 16 illicit truck dispensaries in New York City,” Rumsey said.
“These are not licensed by us. We did not give them permission to do anything. It would be no different than if a pizza place started selling beer illegally.”
State Sen. Liz Krueger introduced a bill earlier this month that would enhance the state regulator’s enforcement power and make it a misdemeanor to sell cannabis without a license.
Other lawmakers warn against criminal penalties that harken back to the harm caused by the war on drugs.
A member of the public who did not identify himself at the CB8 meeting vented his frustration.
“You’re talking about 13-year-old junior high school kids who are buying under the counter vaping, and they’re buying marijuana at eight o’clock and nine o’clock in the morning,” he said. “There is no one watching this? No one’s doing nothing about this.”
Regarding their own advisory role in approving dispensary licenses, committee members gained little clarity from the hour-long presentation last week.
“I really think we need to get an education on what your criteria is, what the role of the community board is in this whole process, and I was hoping to learn that tonight,” CB8 chair Laura Spalter told the OCM officials.
A few community boards have been through the process already, which is in some ways akin to liquor licensing — prospective dispensary licensees must give notice to their respective community board 30 days before applying for a license from the state Cannabis Control Board. That board will take the community board’s advisory opinion into account in its decision.
Currently, the state is only approving licenses for social equity applicants through the conditional adult-use retail dispensary program – “CAURD.” But ultimately, the market will open to general applicants. The volunteer members of the city’s community boards will play an advisory role in approving licenses for retail dispensaries as well as on-site consumption and delivery businesses.
The office of cannabis management has provided community boards instructions in the form of various memos and Q&As, but the roll-out of the first licensed cannabis dispensaries has largely been a matter of trial-by-fire.
“I think I have an understanding of what’s going to happen, but I’ve been barely briefed on this,” CB8 public safety committee chair Ed Green told The Riverdale Press.
Green said he felt discouraged after the meeting with the office of cannabis management, especially because of the slow pace of enforcement.
“It seems like these things are going to take a while, and we aren’t privy to information about the investigations, which is understandable,” he said, “But who knows how long this could go on.”
It gave him the sense that, “the politicians really put the cart before the horse.”