‘Equity and Economic Justice’ is Cannabis Control Board’s North Star

by Michael Nocella

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Cannabis Control Board are working under an aggressive 18-month timeline to launch the state’s adult-use cannabis program. To that end, they have developed a roster of business licenses that authorize a variety of cannabis opportunities, from cultivation to sales. 

“We hope each of the licenses will provide the necessary access and opportunity so that New York municipalities across the state can participate fully in this burgeoning industry,” said Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright, speaking at October’s New York Cannabis Insider Conference. “But we have kept our eye on the goal: equity and economic justice.”

The OCM, which officially opened for business in early October, is an independent state office established by New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), and housed within the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The OCM will oversee a unified regulatory structure to comprehensively regulate and control the cultivation, processing, manufacture, distribution, transportation, and sale of cannabis in New York State. This includes medical cannabis, adult-use or “retail” cannabis, and cannabinoid hemp. 

Wright and her team have some lofty goals, but that they are more than ready, one might say, to aim high. One month in, the Cannabis Control Board had already accomplished the following.

  • Approved the sale of whole flower
  • Approved medical home cultivation regulations for 60-day public comment period
  • Expanded the list of certifying practitioners to any licensed clinician to prescribe a controlled substance.
  • Increased the allowable supply dispensed to 60 days from 30 days
  • Waived the $50 registration fee for patients or caregivers to participate
  • Streamlined the approval of facilities such as hospitals, residential facilities and schools to become designated sites, making access easier for patients

MRTA, passed in March, was built to dramatically increase record-expungement for people convicted of activities that are no longer illegal, including criminal possession, unlawful sale of cannabis, and smoking cannabis. So far, approximately 203,000 marijuana-related charges are presently being suppressed from criminal background searches, and are in the process of being sealed or expunged. This includes 45 individuals in custody or under community supervision for criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree.

“The work of legalization did not begin with the conversation of legalizing cannabis,” Wright said. “It began with harm reduction. It began with decriminalization. And we are here to say that we have been working to end harsh prison sentences and to bring an end to decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under our state’s drug laws.”

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