Senate Hearing to Examine Flawed Rollout of NY’s Recreational Cannabis Market

Sen. Jeremy Cooney. Legislative Gazette file photo.

On Monday, October 30, the New York State Senate Subcommittee on Cannabis will hold a public hearing in Albany to discuss the cannabis market of New York, the first of the subcommittee’s history. Since its inception back in 2021, the legal market for cannabis in New York has met a number of obstacles, both legal and logistical.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place at 11 a.m. in the Van Buren Hearing Room A in the Legislative Office Building in Albany. The hearing will be stream lived.

Adult-use recreational cannabis has had a negative reputation for the past few decades, with its use being heavily stigmatized and illegal, up until only a few years ago. It is still illegal under federal law, but states have started to legalize recreational and medical use within their own jurisdictions. 

The stigma and legal precedents remain, however and are still causing disruptions, which is one of the primary reasons for the upcoming public hearing.  

The hearing was announced by Senator Jeremy Cooney, D-Rochester, who serves as the chair of the Subcommittee on Cannabis. Cooney has been a pivotal figure in the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York state, from being named the co-chair of the Marijuana Task Force for the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, to being a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, which was passed in March of 2021. 

When Cooney organized next week’s hearing, he noted New York’s implementation of its adult-use cannabis program has had to confront consistent setbacks—multiple lawsuits intended to prevent the State’s commitment to social justice goals, damaging court-ordered injunctions, and agency staffing challenges have all delayed the timeline for legal sales and created adverse effects on cultivators, processors, and retailers.

“As state lawmakers, we can’t just pass bills and hope they work out. Instead, through legislative oversight, we have the responsibility to work with our governor and state agencies to ensure our collective goals are met,” Cooney said. “Two years after legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis, New Yorkers are frustrated and disappointed in the state’s ability to launch a safe and legal marketplace. I am calling this hearing with my partners in the Senate because we believe New Yorkers deserve clarity on what has been done so far and how we can help the retail market going into the next legislative session.”

As New York’s landmark cannabis bill, the MRTA was responsible for legalizing marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The bill also established the Office of Cannabis Control Board, whose purpose was to oversee and regulate legal-use cannabis throughout the production, distribution and selling process. The Cannabis Control Board is additionally responsible for issuing licenses to sellers. 

Legalizing recreational marijuana was not only a means to heal societal rifts created by stigmatized drug use, but also serves to act as a vehicle that boosts New York communities economically. After all, the legal marijuana industry holds a lot of financial potential. From the local farms used to grow cannabis, to the distributors and sellers — many of whom are small businesses — and of course to the tax revenue, the industry can provide much needed income for the state.

Health and safety also provide a critical problem that legalization aims to fix. A regulated market would provide safer products that consumers can buy, protecting them from untested, potentially harmful cannabis products.

Despite the bill’s passage, many problems have arisen and disrupted the legal market’s development. Court injunctions, lawsuits and oversight challenges have all contributed to the hindrance of the cannabis industry, in turn affecting farmers, processors and retailers. 

Licensing, particularly, provides a steep hurdle. When New York first legalized recreational cannabis, they established the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licensing program. The program was an effort to reverse harmful cannabis prohibition effects by enabling “justice-involved individuals” to be the first to open retail dispensaries.

However, a recent case occurred, where New York Supreme Court Judge Kevin R. Bryant halted the approval of CAURD licensing for all of New York State, back in August. 

Since the preliminary injunction, Bryant has lifted the suspension, but only for 30 licensees — 30, out 463. Combined with the measly 26 cannabis dispensaries actually operating in New York, it’s become clear to Cooney and other cannabis related fields that the industry is progressing at a painstakingly slow rate.

Local cannabis cultivators have been unable to unload their harvests, leading to a cannabis surplus in the state. 

The October 30 hearing will also host the chairs of related Senate committees. The committee chairs of Agriculture, Finance and Investigations and Government Operations will all be attending. Additionally, testimony from cannabis growers, retailers and regulators will shine a spotlight on the flaws of the budding industry.

“Whether you are a potential consumer or a licensee who has risked their financial future in this industry, you deserve on-the-record answers, and we will ensure a productive and fair hearing,” Cooney said.”