On Tuesday, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo released draft adult use cannabis legislation. Called the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, it is just a few hundred pages long. The bill would set up a new “Office of Cannabis Management” (OCM) to oversee regulation. The office would operate under the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, taking control from the Department of Health, where it currently sits for the existing NY medical cannabis program.
The OCM’s Executive Director would get to decide how many licenses for growing, processing and selling cannabis it will grant. It would also decide the “standards of cultivation and processing” of cannabis and be permitted to conduct inspections and exact civil penalties on rule breakers. In a nod to those historically disadvantaged by the war on drugs, the OCM would be authorized to offer low or zero interest loans to “qualified social equity applicants.” The OCM would also take into account whether a license applicant is minority or woman-owned or owned by a service-disabled veteran or a disadvantaged farmer, and must implement a plan to “actively promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity when issuing licenses.” Businesses would be prohibited from taking “adverse employment action” against an employee just for conduct which the bill permits unless their job performance is impaired. Three different taxes would be imposed on cultivation and sale, including a 22% combined state and county tax on a sale from a wholesaler to a retailer. The state estimates this could yield as much as $300 million in annual tax revenues. Taxes would be used for traffic safety, small business and substance abuse services.
Medical cannabis availability would be expanded to include, among other things, autism, and the OCM can add to the list in their discretion. Hospitals would be able to dispense medical cannabis. The current “registered organization” model for medical cannabis companies would continue, with the bill requiring at least 10 such ROs (there currently are 10 licensees). Non-NY licensed medical cannabis operators could receive licenses here without going through the rigorous application process if the OCM is satisfied with the regulations in the state of the original license. In fact the proposal requires giving a preference to these companies that are licensed elsewhere. This would likely favor the larger multi-state operators. Medical patients would be permitted to grow up to four plants at home.
Current ROs would be permitted to apply for adult use licenses, and the OCM would be able to conduct an auction of those licenses among the current ROs, with money used to make those low or no interest loans. Qualifying for medical cannabis would be deemed a disability under NY law. Retail pricing of medical cannabis would be approved by the OCM. CBD growers and extractors would also be able to obtain licenses, but food from hemp and hemp that is not intended for consumption generally would be subject to normal agriculture laws. Cannabis testing labs, cannabis brokers, truckers, delivery services, CBD retailers, caterers serving cannabis and warehouses also would be licensed by the OCM.
Regarding adult use, companies would not be required to be “vertically integrated” – a business can be growing, processing, distributing, selling or transporting cannabis or operating an “on-site consumption” location, which would be permitted. Cultivators would only be permitted one license each. Processors would be able to receive up to three licenses. Growers, processors and distributors (other than existing ROs) would not be permitted to own an adult use dispensary, and no one would be allowed more than three adult use dispensaries. Public smoking and outdoor growing of cannabis would not be permitted, but growing in greenhouses would be. Adult use would be permitted for those aged 21 and older.
Municipalities where adult use dispensaries would be located would have the right to express their opinion on the matter, which the OCM can take into account. Larger counties and cities would have the right to opt out of adult use cannabis. One controversial provision requires companies with more than 25 employees to sign union agreements. Advertising would be permitted but regulated. No importing or exporting of cannabis would be permitted unless federal law changes. Licenses would not be transferable. There’s an interesting provision prohibiting state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the Federal Government in enforcing the Controlled Substances Act against people complying with the proposed law. Licensees’ principal officers and directors do not have to be NY residents, but must be US citizens or permanent residents.
Remember this is just a proposed bill. It still has to go through the NYS legislature, though both of those houses are currently controlled by Cuomo’s Democrats. The Governor has stated he would like to pass legislation by mid-April.