New York State Sen. Diano Savino helped shepherd her state’s medical marijuana program into being, and she helped expand it into a more robust and accessible marketplace for patients. Now, she’s helping to draft the policies that will shape the Empire State’s highly anticipated adult-use law.
Following the release of a comprehensive marijuana study by the New York Department of Health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed a legislative task force to come up with an adult-use legalization bill. A draft is expected sometime early next year.
“It was somewhat anticlimactic, because we knew … there was already serious consideration that we were going to have to start moving toward an adult-use program, probably a lot sooner than most states had made that transition from medical to adult-use,” Savino told Cannabis Business Times in a phone interview on her way to meet with the governor’s counsel to discuss this very topic.
New York legalized medical cannabis in 2014, and, at first, the program was seen as one of the more restrictive laws in the county. But in the ensuing years, New York regulators have increased the number of licensed businesses in the state and added qualifying conditions for patients. Earlier in 2018, the state expanded its conditions to allow patients who’ve been prescribed opioid painkillers to purchase medical marijuana.
The report doesn’t prescribe how to legalize cannabis in New York. That’s the job of the task force, which will be taking into consideration a broad spectrum of perspectives.
Savino will join fellow lawmakers State Rep. Richard Gottfried, State Sen. Liz Krueger and State Rep. Crystal Peoples Stokes in guiding the task force’s work. A full list of task force members can be found here.
The health department is embarking on a series of listening sessions around the state, which will bring them to places like the Bronx, Albany, Glens Falls, Buffalo and Utica between now and Oct. 11. While the tour won’t touch all 62 counties (and nearly 20 million residents), these events will give various interest groups an opportunity to chime in. The matter of legal adult-use policies encompasses social justice concerns, drug policy advocates, local and state law enforcement, health care professionals, small business associations and municipal governments. It’s an all-hands-on-deck conversation.
“While it’s certainly a worthwhile exercise to hear from the citizens, the real work of developing a program for a state like New York has yet to be done,” Savino said.
For that, the task force will be taking a close look at other states’ paths toward legalization. What’s working? What’s not?
While New York is not—and does not want to be—California, Savino said, there are lessons to be drawn and new trails to blaze, legislatively speaking.
“What I want at the end of this is a program that becomes the national model,” Savino said. She’s interested in maintaining some sort of economic equilibrium for prospective businesses. The state already learned to loosen the caps on license-holders in the medical marijuana program; now, it’s still an open question of who will have a shot at the state’s impending adult-use licenses.
Small business development, Savino said, is key. “A lot of people don’t have millions of dollars that they can just wait until they turn the profit.”
New York, being home to the country’s largest city and a financial powerhouse, will be a significant domino once the state legislature approves adult-use regulations. The expected market size in New York State hovers around the $434-million mark, according to NORML.
“You only get to those numbers if you have program in place that is built around making sure that enough people have access to it,” Savino said. “If you hold the reins too tight, you don’t achieve the goal.”
Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock