New York Expects 20 Dispensaries to Open by End of Year and Issues Guidance for the State’s First Adult-Use Retail Cannabis Dispensaries

On October 28, 2022, the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) released forward-looking guidance for those seeking to operate within the state’s recreational cannabis market.

The Background

In January, Gov. Kathy Hochul published an extensive State of the State book, laying out New York’s plan for 2022, including $200 million loan fund in support of social equity applicants within the state’s nascent marijuana market.

The state government set a goal of opening dispensaries by the end of the year that will allow New Yorkers to legally purchase cannabis. Hochul told the editorial board of Advance Media, owner of the Syracuse Post-Standard, that the state would open 20 dispensaries by the end of the year, with another 20 opening each month thereafter.

On October 17, Hochul told reporters that New York is “on track” to open some cannabis dispensaries within months.

Under Hochul’s plan, it is up to the state to select and lease locations for the dispensaries, including 70 in New York City. While the state’s OCM has not yet announced any locations for dispensaries anywhere in the state, it recently issued guidance in clear anticipation of this plan unfolding in the near future.

The Regulations

The New York OCM’s “Guidance for Adult-Use Dispensaries” is a series of prospective regulations for Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licensees and applications and are immediately effective.

The 27-page document includes requirements and operational rules addressing everything from operations and compliance measures to marketing, sales and distribution parameters, while providing insight into the OCM’s plans for issuing licenses when the time comes. This includes topics of record-keeping requirements, required training for staffers, and inventory and tracking requirements, among others.

While these guidelines are not yet formally adopted and enacted as rules, they at least offer both CAURD licensees and regulators a “working” preview of the New York Cannabis Control Board’s (CCB) expectations for the forthcoming dispensaries.

Indeed, the document states that it “serves to provide the framework that will assist CAURD licensees plan for how to operate their dispensary before regulations are formally adopted. . . and provides clarity on what the Office’s expectations are in relation to those regulations and laws currently in place and the regulations that will be promulgated in the future.”

What Does This Mean for CAURD Licensees?

The state and regulators are gearing up for the opening and development of these dispensaries, possibly within the next few weeks, and throughout the next 15 months. CAURD licensees in New York should adhere to OCM’s newest guidance, in addition to existing Cannabis Law and Title 9 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, until a copy of the final regulations is made available on the OCM’s website.

On November 3, a Business of Cannabis: New York panel discussion ensued, where much of the conversations centered on the importance of providing equal opportunities to small business and justice-involved entrepreneurs to participate in the industry. Panel participants included Tremaine Wright, Chair of the CCB, Crystal Peoples, New York State Assembly Majority Leader, and Jeremy Berke, Reporter for Business Insider.

The same day, Wright tweeted, “[New York] is on target to open stores by the end of the year.” Axel Bernabe, Chief of Staff & Senior Policy Director for OCM, who delivered the keynote more specifically assured, “In 15 months, we’ll have a fully established supply chain built on social equity. That supply chain will form the backbone of what we’re going to build on in the future.”

Qualifying New York small business owners and entrepreneurs should keep a close pulse on this evolving regulatory landscape over the coming weeks and months to ensure they remain in legal compliance and best positioned to take full advantage of this next phase of the state’s cannabis initiative.

Biden’s Pardon Announcement Gives a Boost to SAFE Banking Prospects

As we previously reported, on October 6, President Biden took executive action and announced that he would issue pardons for all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana, and urged state governors to do the same. As part of his executive action, Biden also directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Attorney General to “initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law,” which is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD.

Many observers think that this executive action could usher in cannabis banking reforms. While some have noted that if cannabis is actually de-scheduled, banks and financial institutions will feel more comfortable banking with cannabis and cannabis-related companies, it seems more likely that Biden’s pardon announcement may push Congress to finally pass some version of the SAFE Banking Act.

After Biden’s announcement, Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) said he was hopeful that Congress would pass federal legislation in the lame-duck session after the November election.  On that front, Booker alluded to “bipartisan movement” due to “problems in the banking industry” that many think refers to a version of “SAFE Banking Plus” or “SAFE Plus” that we previously reported senators were discussing.

The SAFE Banking Act – which has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but has not been taken up in the Senate – would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law.

“SAFE Plus” would add equity provisions to the SAFE Banking Act, ensuring equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses, requiring financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, as well as other reforms like expungements, veterans medical cannabis access and more.

 

U.S. Senators May Introduce “SAFE Banking Plus” By End of Year

After finally introducing the comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate last month,  last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) softened his prior position on a separate, narrower cannabis banking bill when he said that he would now consider the banking bill with modifications. As we previously reported, the SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law. SAFE Banking has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but so far has not been taken up in the Senate.

Since the introduction of the CAOA last month, which would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs, Sens. Booker and Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would be willing to consider more incremental cannabis reform such as SAFE Banking with added equity provisions.  Many are referring to the as-yet proposed bill as “SAFE Banking Plus,” which would ensure equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses and require financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other things.

Schumer and Booker have been meeting with other lawmakers to work on a compromise bill, and Booker said a proposal might come after the November elections and before the new Congress starts in January.

Long-Awaited Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the U.S. Senate

More than a year after introducing a first draft, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) finally introduced their proposed marijuana legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) on Thursday, July 21.

The CAOA is a comprehensive bill that would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs. The CAOA also provides for cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, expungements of criminal records and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit. It would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, and the definition would include all THC isomers, not just delta-9 THC. Other features of the bill include grant programs for small business owners hoping to enter the industry who come from communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, increased funding for law enforcement for illegal cultivation, and cannabis marketing restrictions.

Under the proposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer have jurisdiction over cannabis and would be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department. The bill proposes a 5% to 12.5% excise tax for small and mid-sized cannabis producers. It would charge an initial tax of 10% on larger cannabis businesses and gradually increase it to 25%.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism chaired by Booker scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 26 titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

While the bill is unlikely to garner the required 60 votes to pass in the Senate, many see it as a first step toward opening the cannabis debate on Capitol Hill and passing incremental reform that could finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis.

As we have previously reported, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation multiple times in the past few years that would decriminalize cannabis and allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system. However, none of those measures have yet made it to the Senate floor.

 

U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform

This week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – which represents the 1,400 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more – passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, the MORE Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which has yet to be formally introduced.

The House of Representatives has passed both the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act at least six times in recent years but the Senate has yet to take these bills to a vote. Per the resolution, the SAFE Banking Act would “provide financial security for cannabis dispensaries and related companies and enhance public safety” while the MORE Act and/or the CAOA would “legaliz[e] the medicinal use of cannabis and the adult use of recreational cannabis.” Continue reading “U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform”

California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market

On Friday, May 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced proposed revisions to his 2022-2023 budget proposal, which would eliminate the cannabis cultivation tax rate beginning July 1, 2022.

The 15% excise tax on cannabis sales would remain, and the collection and remittance of that tax would be limited to retail sales beginning January 1, 2023. Currently, the cultivation tax rates are $10.08 per ounce of flower, $3.00 per ounce of trim, and $1.41 per ounce of fresh cannabis plant, and these taxes are paid on all recreational and medicinal cultivation of cannabis. Continue reading “California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market”

New York’s “Seeding Opportunity Initiative” Opens up Adult-Use Cultivator License Applications to Hemp Farmers on March 15 and Introduces Proposed Regulations that Will Favor Those With Past Marijuana Convictions for Retail Dispensary Licenses

On March 10, New York State’s cannabis regulators filed proposed regulations for conditional adult-use retail dispensary regulations.  The public will have 60 days to provide comment on the proposed regulations before the Cannabis Control Board votes on them.

The proposed regulations place “justice-involved” individuals – those who have been convicted for a marijuana-related offense and their family members – at the front of the line for retail dispensary applications.  To assist those applicants, Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a $200 million budget that, if approved by the Legislature next month, would be used to help find, secure and renovate storefronts for the dispensaries.  The state’s goal is for the dispensaries operated by “justice-involved” individuals to open by the end of 2022, with other dispensaries to follow in early 2023.  New York’s approach differs from other states that have legalized cannabis in that it is attempting to address head-on the struggles that social equity license applicants often face in raising capital and starting a business in a highly-regulated industry.  Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, said he expects 100-200 licenses to go to “justice-involved” individuals.

Under the “Farmers First Program,” the application period for adult-use cultivator licenses will also open up on Tuesday, March 15 and end on June 30, 2022.  Gov. Hochul signed legislation last month that created a new Adult-Use Conditional Cultivator License, authorizing eligible hemp growers to apply for a license to grow cannabis containing over 0.3% THC for the upcoming adult-use market.  To be eligible to apply, the hemp grower must have been authorized to grow hemp under the Department of Agriculture and Markets Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program and meet certain other requirements.  These conditional licenses make it possible for farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season.

With these moves, the Seeding Opportunity Initiative seeks to establish a supply chain from New York State farmers to social equity retailers.

The general regulation package for cannabis licenses is expected to be released in May.

New York Cannabis Chief Reiterates Social Equity Focus in Speech at Cannabis Trade Show

Tremaine Wright delivered her first public speech since being appointed Chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board at the CWCBExpo (Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition) at the Javits Center on November 4.  Wright leads the five-member board charged with approving a regulatory framework for New York’s cannabis industry and will oversee licensing of cannabis businesses.  In her remarks before 400 people at the business-to-business cannabis industry trade show, Wright reiterated that New York will support social equity licenses for people from communities historically affected by the War on Drugs.  “We’re about to create the most equitable cannabis program in the country,” she said.  Wright also said that New York will prevent social equity licenses from being sold to large companies by requiring that they be sold to other social equity licensees.  However, the regulations are currently being written and there are few details about how the state will help social equity applicants raise capital to start cannabis businesses.  Wright also said that all license applicants will be required to share their ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) frameworks to operate in the state.  The Board has a goal of issuing licenses within 18 months.  Members of New York’s Office of Cannabis Management were also in attendance at the Expo.

House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Deanna Lucci

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164. 

As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.

While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.

The bill also makes other changes, including:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.

While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.  And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.

Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities.   Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.

 

 

 

Update: House to Vote on Historic MORE Act in December

As an update to our September 4th blog post, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the historic MORE Act on September 21.  However, days before that vote House Democrats postponed the vote indefinitely.  It was reported that moderate Democrats expressed concern about voting on the MORE Act before voting on a second Coronavirus relief package.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, suggested the vote could be delayed until after the November elections. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an emailed statement that Democratic leaders were “committed” to scheduling a vote on the bill before the end of the year.

On Monday, November 9, Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues that the House would vote on the MORE Act in December.  Hoyer’s letter did not specify which week the vote will take place, but the House is scheduled to be in session Dec. 1-4 and Dec. 7-10.

As discussed previously on this blog, if enacted The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.  As Hoyer wrote in his letter this week, the MORE would “decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy.”

While it is unlikely that this legislation would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate – ensuring it will die this Congress – proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration. And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections set to take place on January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes, he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe even a symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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