State Senate committee plans hearings on tumultuous rollout of recreational cannabis industry
The state of New York's tumultuous rollout of recreational cannabis dispensary licenses has caught the attention of the state Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee.
The committee now wants to find out why the Office of Cannabis Management and its board - the Cannabis Control Board - have not been able to fully open up the market by now.
"They can't stick it out another week, let alone another year," said Simon Kennedy, an expert grower who's handling two one-acre crops for two licensed cannabis farmers.
Kennedy agrees an independent inquiry may be necessary, but does not directly blame the OCM for the current state of the state's cannabis industry.
Kennedy said he and other growers are struggling because of a court injunction that has frozen the industry, leaving just 23 dispensaries to sell to; and a growing illegal market.
"I think about 30% of the farmers didn't grow this year," he said, "and next year none of them will grow if this continues. The industry is in a mess."
"This is going to be a many-hours-long hearing," investigation committee chairman state Sen. James Skoufis said Monday morning in a Zoom interview.
Skoufis said he wants to ask OCM officials why it took them close to two years to set up policies and regulations for the state's cannabis retail program and why they seemed unprepared for lawsuits that are now paralyzing the industry.
Because of the injunction, in place since mid-August, more than 400 dispensary owners have been blocked from opening.
Those owners applied under the state's social justice dispensary licensing system, which awarded licenses to applicants who have cannabis-related criminal convictions.
A group of disabled veterans and a group including some larger cannabis companies are challenging the constitutionality of the OCM's licensing policy in state Supreme Court.
State Supreme Court Judge Kevin Bryant issued an injunction in mid-August prohibiting newly licensed dispensaries from opening while their cases play out.
State Attorney General Letitia James' office has appealed Judge Bryant's injunction.
As of Monday afternoon, the injunction was still in place.
"The state promised them, 'Here's your license. You're going to be able to do business. Good luck. We wish you well and we're so glad you're part of this new process," Skoufis said, "and now they [licensees] are left holding the bag."
The first oversight hearing is scheduled for Oct 30.
Skoufis said the committee's inquiry is not a full-on investigation but could turn into one after the Oct. 30 oversight hearing.
The committee takes on up to three investigations each year.
AN OCM spokesperson said Monday OCM administrators might be available for comment after they open dispensary applications to all applicants on Oct. 4.