Pot seems to be a priority for state policymakers—finally. Cannabis policy formation is undergoing a much-needed revitalization with lawmakers taking major steps towards in recent days towards developing the Empire State’s regulated adult-use cannabis market. In a little over a week, Governor Kathy Hochul appointed the leaders of the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) and Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) in addition to the state’s two legislative houses announcing their picks for the CCB.
At this rate, a fully established board could be expected by the end of the month. Industry stakeholders are hopeful that draft regulations will be released expeditiously thereafter, and with Hochul at the helm streamlining the process, the issuance of proposed regulations by the end of 2021 no longer seems like wistful optimism.
This Tap Root examines these four appointments and what they could mean for the state’s nascent industry.
CCB Chairperson – Tremaine Wright
Former Brooklyn Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright was tapped as CCB Chair and confirmed by the NYS Senate following a brief hearing during an “extraordinary” session of the legislature earlier this month.
An attorney, her stance on in-the-weeds cannabis policy is largely unknown. However, Wright espouses community values; according to Chairwoman Wright’s website: “Tremaine is a committed advocate for this community. She boldly stands for and with use; empowering and creating opportunities for neighbors and community.”
While many in the industry consider the appointment a triumph—at least in the sense that it addresses the first step in a lengthy regulatory development process—others, notably Senator Diane Savino, have implied the appointment was a rookie move by the new governor. Senator Savino suggested as much during the Wright’s senate confirmation hearing: “I’m somewhat mystified as to why the governor decided to put in charge of the cannabis board a person who has no experience in cannabis.”
Wright represents the first of five appointments needed to fully establish the CCB, with hers, as chairperson, being the only one requiring Senate confirmation. The other four board seats are directly appointed per the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) and, therefore, do not require Senate confirmation. Two of these, direct legislative appointments, by State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Temporary President and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins were made late last week.
CCB Member – Adam W. Perry
Appointed by Speaker Heastie, Perry is a Buffalo-based litigation attorney and partner at the law firm of Hodgson Russ LLP. Heastie indicated in a press release that Perry would be a strong supporter of community-focused policies: “As we create the mechanism and regulations around the new legal cannabis industry, it is critical that we have people involved that are committed to our communities and to ensuring that the industry serves the people of New York…Perry is deeply invested in New York’s communities, and will bring that dedication to his role and be an asset to the Cannabis Control Board.”
Perry’s appointment was the first direct appointment to the Board. While cannabis law is listed as one of his specialty practice areas on his firm’s website, Perry’s primary area of expertise appears to be employment litigation. As Perry’s career has mainly involved private practice as opposed to public service, his perspective on the cannabis industry and its regulatory development and at the associated actions he may take as a board member are largely unknown. That said, he has indeed demonstrated a dedication to his community, as suggested by Heastie, as an active Board Commissioner of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, as well as serving as Chairperson of the authority’s Aviation Committee.
CCB Member – Jen Metzger
Former State Senator Jen Metzger is the third appointee added to the five-member CCB, and her appointment, as indicated above, marks the latest in a surge of cannabis policy activity. NYS Senate Temporary President and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins named Metzger to the board last Thursday, on the heels of Perry’s appointment the day before.
During her time as an Albany lawmaker, where she represented the western Hudson Valley region, Metzger was known for her work on cannabis-related issues such as the legal development and regulation of NY’s hemp industry. Prior to her entry into state legislative politics, Metzger served on her local town board (Rosendale) and founded the nonprofit, Citizens for Local Power.
OCM Executive Director – Christopher Alexander
An attorney, Alexander currently serves as Government Relations and Policy Manager at Village Brands, a cannabis company. He previously worked as associate counsel for the New York State Senate through mid-2020, as well as policy coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance, a well-known advocate organization for drug policy reform.
As OCM Executive Director, Alexander will be largely responsible for the actual implementation of the MRTA, executing the rules and regulations promulgated by the CCB. His experience in the industry and drug policy at large will surely be vital to assuring the successful and equitable implementation of the MRTA and, ultimately, enable a thriving intrastate industry.
A Revitalized Effort
Efforts to appoint the necessary regulators and bureaucrats had stalled during the waning days of the Cuomo administration due to disputes with the state legislature. The push to build a regulated adult-use market in New York has since regained momentum under new Governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul’s ascension to the governor’s desk last month has seen the appointment and Senate confirmation of both the CCB Chairperson, former State Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright, as well as the Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director, Christopher Alexander, in addition to two CCB appointments recently made by the legislature.
Only two vacancies on the CCB remain—the governor’s two direct appointments. With increased momentum under the new administration, such appointments are expected relatively soon as part a revitalized effort begin implementing the MRTA—a major step forward for cannabis in NY.