New York marijuana regulators had an action-packed Thursday morning meeting in which they approved three dozen new retail permits, delayed action on a proposal for cannabis farmers markets, got some tough love directly from state Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and accepted the resignation of one of their own state marijuana control board members.
The New York Cannabis Control Board’s meeting was capped with the anticipated resignation of member Reuben McDaniel, who pledged to continue working closely with the Office of Cannabis Management in his other state role as CEO of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY).
Though McDaniel didn’t give a reason for his departure, it’s a move that has been building for a while, as criticism of his dual roles has increased in recent months. McDaniel said it has been a “tremendous honor” to serve as a member of the Cannabis Control Board.
“DASNY and I remain committed to the work of the board and the Office of Cannabis Management,” McDaniel said. “We will continue to work in partnership to support the entrepreneurs as they open dispensaries around the state.”
Lack of Open Retailers Strains Market
The members opened the meeting with the unanimous approval of 36 new conditional adult use retail dispensary permits, bringing the total number of retail licensees to 251. The new licensees included seven in the Finger Lakes Region, which had previously been stalled by litigation.
But as of Thursday, there are only 13 operational retailers, OCM staff noted, with two more set to open in coming days in the Bronx and Syracuse. Getting even more open as soon as possible is one of the OCM’s top priorities. Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon told the board his office is sifting through more than 300 dispensary location applications as quickly as possible, with 146 that have already been approved.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck thing to make sure our CAURD licensees have everything they need to get open,” Fagon said.
But that lack of operational retailers is what has led to intense pressure from licensed growers, many of whom do not yet have any legal channel through which to sell the thousands of pounds of cannabis they grew in 2022.
There had been an agenda item scheduled for Thursday’s meeting for CCB members to discuss regarding the farmers’ plight – OCM staff revealed last month they’d been working on a farmers market model that could allow growers to sell directly to consumers as soon as this summer – but that agenda item was removed Wednesday evening, several board members lamented.
The item was yanked from the agenda because the OCM legal team wasn’t ready to provide board members with specific options to consider and perhaps adopt, OCM staff said. But Fagon told the board that staff could likely have solid proposals ready for the board by the end of next week, which prompted several board members to suggest they schedule a special meeting.
CCB Chairwoman Tremaine Wright indicated solid support from the board on “fast-pacing” some type of solution for farmers to offload their crops, whether it’s an early transition to microbusiness licenses, launching farmers markets, or something else.
“I would like for us to be thinking a little bit more broadly. I love the idea of us leaning into fast-pacing a transition into micro-licensing, because … one of the gaps that came up for me is that cultivators are still carrying the burden of holding product, and in some of the models that have been floated, it didn’t actually offload the product and put it into the retail side,” Wright said. “We should be exploring what it looks like … to transition into micro, if that’s what (farmers) want.”
However, Wright cautioned that there are still hurdles that regulators must deal with before they can provide growers the answers they’re craving.
But that also, Wright suggested, could mean other fundamental alterations to how the New York market is rolled out.
“It’s not just one proposal that’s floating, but … there are a number of legal concerns. The way our law is structured, we may need to come up with applications … but I think we can come up with a solution. It also might mean that we’d need to shift in how we think about how the rest of the market is set up,” Wright said.
As with the previous CCB meeting last month, a number of farmers appeared to tell the board they’re in dire financial straits and may go under unless they’re able to find buyers for their unsold crops.
“Please act quickly. Many of us are depending on it,” said Joann Kudrewicz, the CEO of Ravens View Genetics and a member of the Cannabis Association of New York (CANY).
Dan Livingston, the executive director of CANY, further told the board that the entire New York cannabis industry is united behind the farmers market concept they floated last month, and urged them to put the pedal to the metal in implementing it.
“Throughout the industry, growers, processors, retailers, everybody’s excited about this policy, and I haven’t seen that since this cannabis legalization program started,” Livingston said. “It’s pretty extraordinary, to come up with an idea that everyone agrees is workable.”
State Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes, one of the primary authors of the state law that legalized recreational marijuana and set up the current social equity program, also made a cameo at the meeting, which was held in her district’s biggest city, Buffalo. The lawmaker had both words of encouragement and some tough love to offer both regulators and entrepreneurs.
“We decided to take a method that was going to invest in the people who had the most impact from the war on drugs. That’s a challenge,” Peoples-Stokes said.
But primarily she urged stakeholders to have patience with the process and the system that has been set up.
“Now I’m just going to ask people to be patient. If you think it’s going to happen in two years, and it hasn’t, then you’re not ready for this as a sustainable business,” Peoples-Stokes said. “What you have poured into your farms so far, there are people from California who will come and pay you for your license right now, and they will not whine about what they been through to get to where they are. They will take it from right there and make it happen, and that’s what we have to do.”