“Cannabis Conversations” addressing citizens’ concerns ahead of legalization

Legislative Gazette photo by Devin Cabrera

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management is holding a series of “Cannabis Conversations” across New York.

Led by Cannabis Control Board chair Tremaine Wright, these public forums — which began in late January — are designed to answer questions New Yorkers might have about the process and regulations surrounding the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act bill signed into law last year.

At the most recent meeting on February 7, conducted over video, Wright walked viewers through a series of slides giving an overview of the new law. This included an introduction of the regulations and practices that citizens and localities are meant to abide by in following this legislation and conducting business in the state.

Also addressed were the procedures aimed at ensuring proper enforcement of the laws by police departments. Wright addressed concerns about more New Yorkers driving impaired because of legalization. She said there will be new training for drug recognition experts and new devices for law enforcement to measure impairment.

“As of today there are no sales of recreational cannabis,” Wright said as she closed her slide presentation. There will be no legal sales of recreational cannabis until regulations are finalized by the Office of Cannabis Management.

Tremaine Wright

After the draft regulations are released there will be a 60-day public comment period to pave the way for public sale.

The meeting was opened up for questions from the public, sent via email prior to and during the meeting.

Questions centered on funding initiatives related to the Social Equity Fund — which will direct some proceeds back to communities affected by criminalization in the past — regulations, and laws going forward.

Wright elaborated on the matter of the Social Equity Fund, namely who would be eligible. While it is designed in part to uplift members of the state seeking licenses who reside in areas historically policed heavily during the periods of prohibition, Wright elaborated that it is meant to help others as well.

With 35,000 active farms in the state, the needs and concerns of farmers came up specifically. “This supports our farmers,” Wright said. “Distressed farmers are equity applicants.”

Wright said the spirit of the law is to create an equitable and inclusive environment. She added that by this same token, there would be regulations in place to make sure that out-of-state dispensaries and businesses would not be allowed to capitalize on the state’s legalization and set up shop in New York, possibly creating monopolies.

While the chair estimated initially that real progress in the form of retail in the state was 18 months from the formation of the board last September, there could be cultivation and retail sales by late winter and early spring.

Wright also addressed concerns of cultivators in areas where localities had an unclear situation as far as zoning for cannabis cultivation operations were concerned. She emphasized that everyone should check with their local municipal zoning boards, but that the law stipulates that no municipalities can pass any legislation that “suppresses the weed market.”

Wright emphasized that the laws for enforcement are still in progress. A viewer sent in a question regarding the legality of whether or not they should expect to be detained by law enforcement while using cannabis in a parked car.

Wright said, “Let’s not use cannabis in our car. Err on the side of caution.” Law enforcement according to the chair has no guidance on cannabis use in parked cars.

These cannabis conversations will continue for the following regions:

  • Mohawk Valley – Wednesday, February 9
  • North County – Thursday, February 10
  • Capital Region – Tuesday, February 15
  • Mid Hudson – Wednesday, February 16
  • Long Island – Thursday, February 17
  • Spanish Speaking – Tuesday, February 22

All meetings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Attendees can register to attend here.