New York Cannabis Czar Tries to Reassure Stakeholders

Tremaine Wright addressed the bumpy rollout of the state's adult-use market.

New York’s cannabis regulatory chief, Tremaine Wright, tried to assuage marijuana industry fears on Friday about the bumpy rollout of the Empire State’s adult-use market, in advance of a hotly anticipated meeting on Monday where industry insiders expect more permits will be awarded and regulations revealed.

Wright said enforcement is ongoing against unlicensed sellers and that anyone who meets state criteria will eventually win a business permit.

Speaking on a panel in Las Vegas during MJBizCon, Wright – who serves as the chairwoman of the New York Cannabis Control Board – repeatedly emphasized that authorities are cracking down on illicit cannabis dealers, while also reiterating that the plan is for recreational sales to begin by the end of the year.

Wright said the state is cognizant of possible industry hurdles – including competition from the underground market – and that regulators are committed to fostering a sustainable business climate for those who play by the rules.

“We want to make sure we have a host of business partners that have the opportunity for success, and that we are actually building a system around them that allows them to innovate and to grow,” Wright said.

“We are concerned with enforcement, and how you make sure they’re growing in an environment where their business can compete effectively in the marketplace, that we don’t have outliers, people who refuse to come into the regulated market, killing that market,” Wright said. “We have to balance those two things.”

Wright said there have already been an increasing number of police raids and health department actions taken to close down unlicensed cannabis dealers “as far south as New York City and as far north as the Rochester area.”

“It’s not a free-for-all,” Wright said of the New York cannabis landscape. “I know that’s the way it’s presented. Like, oh, it’s a gray area. It’s not gray. It’s actually really clear. The government knows what they’ve licensed and what they collect taxes on and who’s authorized to make those sales.”

Wright further emphasized that New York has no license caps – though licensees will be prohibited from being vertically integrated – and encouraged entrepreneurs to apply for permits. She said the state wants to position licensed businesses to succeed on a national level, once federal cannabis legalization happens.

Wright also said she’s unsure of the status of a $200 million state fund designed to pay for social equity retail shops, but said fund managers were in Las Vegas this week, attempting to raise some of the $150 million for the fund that’s intended to come from investors and philanthropists.

Regarding a recent court ruling that partially halted the New York licensing process in some regions of the state, Wright said her office is monitoring the situation, and will pivot as necessary.

“They said, ‘Do not make any decisions regarding those areas,’ so we have not made any decisions. If we are not successful in this litigation, or if it’s dragging along, we may need to revise our selection process, but at the moment, we have not made that determination yet,” Wright said.

“We are watching it, and we are trying to be cognizant of the time that is being lost,” she said.

John Schroyer

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