Issuance of Adult-Use Cannabis Licenses May Be Stalled in New York

Issuance of Adult-Use Cannabis Licenses May Be Stalled in New York

The governor and State Senate leaders are reportedly in conflict over who should lead the OMC and CCB.

June 23, 2021

The issuance of adult-use cannabis licenses in New York may be delayed as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate leaders are reportedly in conflict over who should lead the Office of Cannabis Management (OMC) and Cannabis Control Board (CCB).

As previously reported by Cannabis Business Times, Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law in March, making New York the 17th state to legalize adult-use cannabis. 

The OMC and CCB were created under the MRTA to oversee the state's adult-use cannabis market and enforce a comprehensive regulatory framework for adult-use, medical and cannabinoid hemp. The OMC is "governed by a five-member board, with three members appointed by the governor, one appointed by each house," Cannabis Business Times previously reported.

According to Politico, lawmakers have argued that the Cuomo administration has taken little action to prepare for the state's adult-use cannabis market. The governor has yet to enact any MRTA provisions or nominate an OMC executive director and CCB chairperson, which are the first steps to a marketplace being established and licenses being issued. 

The debate between Cuomo and Senate leaders has left some industry stakeholders questioning Cuomo's motives and commitment to establish a recreational marketplace, Politico reported.

"I think he's still quite ambiguous about the state moving forward, despite the fact that he negotiated the bill and he signed the bill," state Sen. Liz Krueger said in an interview.

And Sen. Diane Savino told Politico that while the OMC may have a website, it doesn't exist in any other form, which is a problem.

According to Politico, Cuomo was expected to issue his nominees for OMC executive director and CCB chairperson earlier this month; however, the talks reportedly fell apart due to conflict from the Senate.

The Senate voted against nominating Norman Birenbaum, the state director of cannabis programs, as the OMC executive director due to his previous track record, Politico reported. Cuomo then considered nominating Karim Camara, the executive director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services, as the CCB chairperson and leaving the OMC executive director spot unfilled; however, some argued that leaving the position open was a way for Birenbaum to serve the role unofficially--causing the 2021 session to close without any nominations. 

According to Politico, Cuomo and the Senate both agreed on electing Cuomo's assistant Axel Bernabe as the OCM executive director, but Bernabe declined.

Next Steps

If there are no nominees for either position soon, lawmakers could wait to see what happens or pass a bill that would take Cuomo out of the process; however, Krueger said that is unlikely as it would further complicate the process.

Krueger told Politico that there is a reasonable chance that the state will have a different governor within months. "In which case, I don't wish to delay moving forward [with] cannabis, but it may be a short delay," she said. 

She added that while creating and establishing the state's adult-use cannabis market would be difficult without Cuomo's involvement, there is no reason why the state can't move forward in implementing some of the MRTA's provisions, especially those related to cannabis research.

And Savino told Politico that most of the changes could happen without OMC board members or new regulations being established first.

"It could happen right now, but [the Department of Health] is hiding behind [the idea] that, 'We need to wait for the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Board to be convened and new regulations to be promulgated.' That's just not true," Savino told Politico. "The statute does not require that for the changes that could go into effect, [like] adding in all health care providers who are allowed to prescribe medication currently, to add in all conditions, to allow the sale of flower product."

But administration spokesperson Colin Brennan directed Politico to a June 4 statement where he said that once the Cannabis Control board is in place, MRTA provisions can start to be implemented. 

Lawmakers are worried that the delays could extend the state's timeline for recreational cannabis sales even past 18 months, which was the original timeline for adult-use sales to begin.

And although adult-use cannabis sales have yet to begin in New York, adults can still legally possess cannabis. Savino told Politico if the state doesn't make a move to establish a marketplace soon, "the illegal market is going to run the table in a state where we just recently hailed the passage of legalizing marijuana. That makes no sense."