More than six months after New York legalized adult-use cannabis through the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), the state’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) held its first public meeting Oct. 5.
Inaction by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in appointing a CCB chairperson as well as an executive director for the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) held up the process. It took current Gov. Kathy Hochul nine days after assuming the governor’s office Aug. 24 to call an executive session to make those appointments.
So, what was the five-member board’s first order of business during its inaugural meeting this week? To expand New York’s medical cannabis program to include the use of whole flower.
CCB Chairwoman Tremaine Wright—Hochul’s appointee who was confirmed by the state Senate on Sept. 2—provided some detail about the “enhancements.”
“I am excited to announce that we are directing the OCM to work with the Department of Health (DOH) to execute the expansion of the medical cannabis program pursuant to the MRTA,” she said. “The Department of Health and our OCM team are actively working on several changes, which will take effect immediately.”
Wright said the changes include:
- The addition of whole cannabis flower as an approved form of medical cannabis.
- Any practitioner who has a license to prescribe a controlled substance is able to certify medical patients.
- The amount of approved medical cannabis that may be dispensed to a certified patient or a designated caregiver increases from a 30-day supply to a 60-day supply.
- The patient and caregiver $50 registration fee is permanently waived.
- The approval for facilities, such as hospitals, residential facilities and schools, to become designated caregiver sites will be streamlined, making the administration of medical cannabis easier for patients who go to those facilities.
Wright did not make clear whether the addition of whole flower to the medical program would permit smoking or if it would be limited to vaporization, but the program’s DOH website specifically mentioned that the Oct. 5 updated enhancements pertained to adding whole flower for vaporization as an improved form of medical cannabis.
Whole flower cannabis products are not yet available at registered organization dispensing facilities, as the DOH is working on brand reviews and approvals for those registered organizations that have proposed the new form, according to the website.
OCM and DOH officials will provide regular updates on the rollout of the changes to the public, existing certified patients and registered practitioners, as the medical program’s regulatory responsibilities transition from DOH to OCM, Wright said.
Meanwhile, Wright said the board was not yet ready to move forward on advancing home cultivation for medical cannabis patients, despite the MRTA setting up a six-month effective date for the CCB to issue regulations governing such grows.
“Due to the delay in appointing the full Cannabis Control Board, we have missed the first deadline,” she said. “Nevertheless, we are very committed to drafting these regulations and issuing them for public comment and expect it to be an agenda item in one of the upcoming board meetings. Expanding patient access to medical cannabis and improving patient care is a mandate that this board takes very seriously.”
The five-member CCB was not functionable until the New York Senate and Assembly made their appointments—Jen Metzger, Ph.D., a former state senator, and Adam W. Perry, a partner at Hodgson Russ LLP—and Hochul made her final two gubernatorial appointments on Sept. 22. Hochul’s final appointees were Reuben R. McDaniel III, president and CEO of Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), and Jessica Garcia, the assistant to the president of Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The OCM is the day-to-day administration and enforcement arm of a comprehensive regulatory structure that was created to oversee medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis and cannabinoid hemp within the state. It was set up to be governed by the five-member CCB.
According to OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander, who also was appointed by Hochul and approved by the Senate on Sept. 2, New York’s medical cannabis program currently includes 151,070 certified patients and 3,367 register practitioners, as well as 10 registered organizations with 38 dispensaries and two more coming soon.
Some industry advocacy organizations expressed discontent in CCB’s inaction on issuing regulations for patient home cultivation.
Alexander explained the delay.
“The MRTA was signed into law March 31,” Alexander said. “We were not able to begin the work of establishing New York’s cannabis market until Sept. 22, when the full Cannabis Control Board was appointed. As such, we have a six-month delay to make up. Therefore, one of my priorities out of the gate is to staff up the Office of Cannabis Management with qualified and mission-driven individuals who have the necessary experience to ensure that we are successful.”
The CCB unanimously approved a resolution to hire Jason Starr as the chief equity officer of OCM. Starr has more than a decade experience as an attorney, educator, organizer and innovator in civil rights and social justice policy.
In addition, a package of initial hires for other senior positions within the OCM went before CCB members Tuesday and was unanimously approved, at Alexander’s recommendation.
McDaniel lauded the administrative efforts to fill the staffing positions in less than two weeks.
“When Gov. Hochul appointed me to be in this position, one of the things she said was, ‘You need to move fast,’ and to move fast we need good staff,” McDaniel said. “I’ve had the chance to work with several of them, so I know quite a few of the names. I’ve also heard from other people about names I don’t know [and] how qualified they are. And looking at the resumes, I was very impressed with the team we put together.”
The date for the next CCB meeting has yet to be announced.