Cannabis Leaders To NY Governor: Keep Those Appointments Coming
Following last week’s two appointments to New York State’s new Office of Cannabis Management, local experts and New York Cannabis United (NYCU) members Michelle Smoler, Tosin Ajayi, and Ryan Lepore weighed in on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s progress so far, and the need to fill New York’s Cannabis Control Board before NY can get down to business. Check out their full op-ed (and bios) below.
On Wednesday, Sept. 1, the New York State Senate convened a special session to appoint Tremaine Wright and Chris Alexander to lead the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), the regulatory agency responsible for launching New York’s legal cannabis industry. This announcement marks the end of a six-month delay following the momentous passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law and signals to New Yorkers that our new governor Kathy Hochul, unlike her predecessor, is serious about implementing this landmark cannabis legislation. But with 4 seats still vacant in New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB), the work is nowhere near done.
As the new Chair and Executive Director of the CCB and OCM, respectively, Wright and Alexander bring years of commitment to public service and a track record for sustaining the integrity of the cannabis industry. The MRTA is celebrated as the most progressive cannabis legalization bill in the country, and only with the right leaders will the full scope of legal protections, benefits, and societal impacts from this law be realized. OCM’s incoming leadership will collectively draft the rules and regulations that will govern New York’s cannabis industry going forward using their discretion and interpretations of the law. Even with two reputable leaders at the helm, the future of New York’s adult-use industry — whether it serves as a fresh start or continues to stigmatize the cannabis plant and those who grow, process, sell, and consume it — is still at stake.
We must continue to appoint leaders to OCM who will use their position to uphold the intent of the MRTA and deliver New Yorkers the industry we fought for. Establishing a cannabis regulatory framework in New York rooted in justice, equity, and sustainability will not only disrupt decades of BIPOC trauma caused by the State’s unjust drug policies but could also interrupt the perpetual horrors of prohibition experienced across the entire nation.
Every day without this framework in place prolongs the cycle of trauma and criminalization, exposing legacy market operators to law enforcement and denying New Yorkers access to the effective and affordable medicine and harm reduction resources they need. Absent responsible leadership, interest groups with money and access will continue to shape the cannabis landscape as they see fit and New York will be the latest in the U.S. to set up an industry that caters to lining the pockets of the most privileged among us.
With Hochul’s attention turned toward cannabis, and two seats already confirmed to the OCM, cannabis advocates must continue to make our priorities unmistakable. We will not support OCM candidates nominated out of political convenience. New Yorkers demand leaders committed to the vision for New York’s cannabis industry outlined in the law — leaders who will place the interests of women and minority applicants, small businesses, financially distressed farmers, and communities harmed by prohibition at the forefront and make the training, education, and provision of resources to these groups a priority.
We require leaders with vision, who will understand the harms large-scale indoor cultivation will inflict on our climate, natural and built-environments and make environmentally regenerative and sustainable practices the industry standard on Day One; leaders who understand how to transition New York’s existing multi-billion-dollar legacy market into a legal framework and establish realistic pathways for legacy operators and equity applicants to enter the new industry. Above all, these leaders must recognize how overly complex and punitive regulatory frameworks have undermined other states’ efforts to make their cannabis industries equitable and inclusive.
New York is not without qualified candidates and the Hochul administration should work with those who fought tirelessly to get the MRTA passed to identify the right people to lead the industry forward. If the governor and legislators can commit to swiftly appointing the remaining regulators and establishing a clear 18-month plan, we can create a fully functioning cannabis industry in New York close to the original timetable.
In selecting Tremaine Wright and Chris Alexander to lead cannabis sales in New York, Governor Hochul has shown a commitment to the intent of our cannabis law beyond the expectations set by ex-Governor Cuomo. We are counting on her to continue championing this moment with the urgency and transparency it warrants and we too, as stakeholders in the design of the New York cannabis market, will continue to advocate for smart, forward-thinking candidates to lead the Office of Cannabis Management. The groundwork is laid — if we continue to work together we can ensure that New York’s emerging cannabis industry is a success.
Michelle Smoler is a medical cannabis patient and the President of NYU CannaPolicy at NYU Wagner, specializing in public policy. Tosin Ajayi co-owns the CBD company Holistic Remedies, LLC, and is an alumnus of NYU Wagner where she founded NYU CannaPolicy and specialized in nonprofit management. Ryan Lepore is the Interim Executive Director of NYC NORML, Board Member for Empire State Norml, and Director of Business Development at PrestoDoctor.
Together, they represent a dedicated group of New York cannabis law reform and advocacy organizations, trade associations, businesses, farmers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and concerned individuals who make up New York Cannabis United (NYCU).