NYC NORML Issues Open Letter To Governor Cuomo Opposing Nomination of Executive Director of Cannabis Programs

NEW YORK: Interim Executive Director of NYC NORML Ryan Lepore issued the following open letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, detailing the advocacy group’s opposition to elevating Norman Birenbaum from Director of Cannabis Programs to Executive Director of the newly formed Office of Cannabis Management.

 

May 20th, 2021

We have recently learned of the intent to nominate New York’s current Director of Cannabis Programs, Norman Birenbaum to Executive Director of the incoming Office of Cannabis Management under our new Cannabis Law.  The legislative intent behind the legal passage of cannabis in New York will be abolished if this candidate is formally nominated and appointed into leadership roles of the incoming program, particularly  the role of Executive Director.

As a potential nominee for this integral position, Mr. Birenbaum’s regulatory history is plenteous with policymaking and regulations that are antithetical to the legislative intent of the “Marijuana Taxation & Regulation Act” (MRTA) passed into Law. Within his current position of New York’s Director of Cannabis Programs,  Mr. Birenbaum has repeatedly encouraged culturally insensitive policies into the proposed framework of New York’s incoming program and deployed tactics in his previous regulatory role that resulted in documentable public distrust and harm towards the existing patient community of that state. Many of his regulatory policies are widely known within the industry to encourage predatory practices, monopolization, and further systemic racism. Our role in New York demands attunement towards the diversity of New York State & our ambitious goals for social equity.

Examining Mr. Birenbaum’s tenure in Rhode Island revealed his history of aggressive tactics, including the use of law enforcement to carry out regulatory compliance, many of which are described as openly hostile to their vulnerable patient community. This is truly worrisome as one of the revered foundations of justice within our law’s intent is to break the pattern of re-criminalization of cannabis patients and consumers. It should also raise concern that he enacted additional policies in Rhode Island which resulted in patient privacy and HIPAA violations, legal issues, as well as protests and rallies against his leadership.   This track record of harmful regulatory strategies in a state of considerably smaller size and population stands as a stark warning about the potential impact of his leadership in a state as large and diverse culturally, economically, and racially as New York – we are the Empire State.

The MRTA provides an improved framework to ensure success in the context of justice and social equity. The magnitude of this landmark endeavor requires a candidate with not only experience on both of these priorities but also an open mind towards exploring new strategies in partnership with criminal justice and social equity experts. It is important to note that in 2017, Mr. Birenbaum was not chosen for the Executive Director role by Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission for many of the misgivings mentioned (as well as having true integration in the already established cannabis community that another candidate already held). Research from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission public meeting minutes underscores the hesitancy in approving this candidate who did not have the humility necessary to successfully run an ambitious Cannabis Program. Based on multiple conversations and the candidate’s demonstrated lack of concern, it‘s clear that he has not historically been amenable  to adopting social equity-focused provisions and even furthermore has been characterized as closed-minded towards ideas other than his own on this issue. This is all while holding zero credibility behind his lack of action behind implementing or supporting social equity parameters in the past.

Two years into his tenure, New York’s regulatory successes should be apparent to the wider community and indisputable to the industry, as seen in other state programs with policy changes within similar timeframes. He has no experience incorporating any policies that help communities of color or the legacy market transition into the legal framework. Instead, there is a demonstrated history of ignorance when it comes to the cannabis community and its already established marketplace. This becomes even more problematic because New York’s legacy market is debatably one of the largest in the nation, and insensitive regulation in other markets towards legacy transition have hindered the ability to maximize participation from its consumers and collect tax revenue for impactful social equity programs in other states.

Communities harmed and inhibited by prohibition are the core populations that the MRTA seeks to empower and transition. Having public trust from these constituencies who have been traditionally harmed by prohibition and are already integrated with the community, is essential to the successful execution of this groundbreaking legislation.  Public distrust of this suggested executive director will discourage engagement and recreate the same societal dilemmas the law seeks to resolve.

His appointment is an unnecessary liability towards New York’s cannabis industry leadership  and a regressive assault on true social progress. His leadership will quickly tarnish any positively construed legacy that we are collectively vested in implementing in our state. We swiftly urge the consideration of different candidates for the incoming leadership roles and ask the Governor to consider other appointments recommended by the activists and community stakeholders who supported passage of the MRTA. Instead of a controversial figure with a questionable record of leadership, we call upon the Governor to select a BIPOC or culturally competent candidate who understands the full context of prohibition and the ensuing need for social equity as the program’s Executive Director.

Sincerely,

Ryan Lepore

Interim Executive Director of NYC NORML

 

Curved Papers & Dana Beal Offer NYC Pot Smokers Who Vaccinate “Joints For Jabs”

NEW YORK: Brooklyn born Curved Papers inventor Michael O’Malley has teamed up with long time New York City Yippie NORML Act Up pot activist Dana Beal to offer an NYC version of “Joints For Jabs,” which Edelstein first staged in D.C. earlier this Spring. Anyone with a vaccination card can get a free joint this afternoon in Union Square!

New York City is abuzz this Spring following the March 31st early morning si

gning of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, championed by Crstal Peoples-Stokes and in the Assembly, and Liz Krueger in the Senate. MRTA was the fruit of six years of leadership by these two women, The Drug Policy Alliance, NORML and many other ad hoc coalitions, including Curved Papers’ “Do The Right Thing, New York,” which featured Fab Five Freddy and Jerry Scyzer, who showed and really kick started a surge of energy that toppled years of entrenched corporate resistance by The Governor’s team to the popular view. With the help of House Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the government did its job. The final day of testimonies in favor of the MRTA was riveting and emotional.

Of course, we can’t really have full out live events yet, but we want to make this gesture to remind the cannabis community to keep working together with the Federal government to defeat the virus, and legalize at that level. We hope The President hears about it, so D.C. and New York were our best bets.

Getting vaccinated is something to believe in. Science. It’s an outdoor pop-up event on a Spring day. Pass by and say “high.” We’re masking up and staying socially distant and we strongly suggest that you don’t share joints! Even on this blessed day. Dana will be there to give you each your own, and he’ll be wearing gloves. Come on people now, get together, smartly.

We’re looking forward to having a normal NYC Cannabis Parade next year. Dana has been a part of it for decades as it grew from New York City to the global annual phenomenon in over 40 cities around the world that it is today. In recent years, Steve Bloom of celebstoner.com has taken a greater leadership role and taken the event to a new level. His musical background has made the rally end of the parade a real festival, featuring significant political speakers as well. We hope we’ll be able to do that kind of thing in the City again next Spring. Last year was different, and so will this year be different again. But we’re getting somewhere. In New York we are doing a good job.

This Summer, hopefully we can have a Summer of Love in New York City. The MRTA introduces equity and justice standards that are state-of-the-art and a model for the country. Diverse license application teams are receiving design and engineer support from Curved High Tech’s new CANNA CAD NY program.

Contact MIT Architecture grad Michael O’Malley for details. Innovation.

Curved Papers are easy to roll and easy to buy. Get a four pack on your phone! curvedpapers.com/shop/. Use coupon code 4202021 for 10% off and free shipping today!

NEW YORK: Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Legalizing Adult-Use Cannabis

Legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) Establishes the Office of Cannabis Management; Expands New York’s Existing Medical Marijuana Program; Establishes a Licensing System; and Creates a Social and Economic Equity Program Encouraging Individuals Disproportionately Impacted by Cannabis Enforcement to Participate in Industry

Tax Collection Projected to Reach $350 Million Annually and Potentially Create 30,000 to 60,000 Jobs

NEW YORK:  Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) legalizing adult-use cannabis, fulfilling a key component of his 2021 State of the State agenda. The bill signing comes after the Governor, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced this past Sunday, March 28, that an agreement had been reached on the legislation. The bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework that covers medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp. The bill also expands New York State’s existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs. The legislation provides licensing for marijuana producers, distributors, retailers, and other actors in the cannabis market, and creates a social and economic equity program to assist individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement that want to participate in the industry.

The development of an adult-use cannabis industry in New York State under this legislation has the potential to create significant economic opportunities for New Yorkers and the State. Tax collections from the adult-use cannabis program are projected to reach $350 million annually. Additionally, there is the potential for this new industry to create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs across the State.

“This is a historic day in New York – one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.” Governor Cuomo said. “This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible.”

“Today, New York stepped up and took transformative action to end the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “This legislation is a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs that has plagued our state for too long. This effort was years in the making and we have finally achieved what many thought was impossible, a bill that legalizes marijuana while standing up for social equity, enhancing education and protecting public safety. I applaud Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for their commitment and leadership on this issue.”

“Passage of this bill will mean not just legalizing marijuana, but also investing in education and our communities, and it brings to an end decades of disproportionately targeting people of color under state and federal drug laws,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “I thank Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for her years of advocacy and efforts to make this bill a reality. My colleagues and I knew it was important to do this the right way – in a way that would include those targeted and frequently excluded from the process. Now, this legal industry will create jobs across our state, including for those who have had their lives upended by years of unjust drug laws.”

“I’m extremely humbled, proud and honored to have passed the historic Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act with my partners in government Senator Liz Krueger and Governor Cuomo. This social justice initiative will provide equity to positively transform disenfranchised communities of color for the better,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “I believe this bill can serve as a blue print for future states seeking inclusive cannabis legalization. I would be remiss not to thank all of my family, colleagues, advocates and supporters over 8 long years.”

The Governor has included legalizing adult-use cannabis in his last three budget proposals.

The New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act contains the following provisions:

Establish the Office of Cannabis Management
The Office of Cannabis Management will be charged with enforcing a comprehensive regulatory framework governing medical, adult-use cannabinoid hemp. It will be governed by a five-member board, with three members appointed by the Governor and one appointment by each house. OCM will be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority.

Medical Cannabis
The legislation will allow people with a larger list of medical conditions to access medical marijuana, increase the number of caregivers allowed per patient, and permit home cultivation of medical cannabis for patients.

Adult-Use Cannabis
The legislation will create a two-tier licensing structure that will allow for a large range of producers by separating those growers and processors from also owning retail stores. The legislation creates licenses for producers and distributors, among other entities, and the legislation will implement strict quality control, public health and consumer protections. A social and economic equity program will facilitate individuals disproportionally impacted by cannabis enforcement, including creating a goal of 50% of licenses to go to a minority or woman owned business enterprise, or distressed farmers or service-disabled veterans to encourage participation in the industry.

The Bill implements a new cannabis tax structure that will replace a weight-based tax with a tax per mg of THC at the distributor level with different rates depending on final product type. The wholesale excise tax will be moved to the retail level with a 9 percent state excise tax. The local excise tax rate will be 4 percent of the retail price. Counties will receive 25% of the local retail tax revenue and 75 percent will go to the municipality.

Cannabinoid Hemp
The legislation permits the sale of hemp flower in the cannabinoid hemp program, and allows for smokeable forms only when adult use retail stores are operational.

Adult-Use Cannabis Tax Revenue
All cannabis taxes will be deposited in the New York state cannabis revenue fund. Revenue covers reasonable costs to administer the program and implement the law. The remaining funding will be split three ways:

  • 40 Percent to Education
  • 40 Percent to Community Grants Reinvestment Fund
  • 20 Percent to Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund

Municipal Opt-Out
Cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt-out of adult-use legalization.

Traffic Safety
The New York State Department of Health will work with institutions of higher education to conduct a controlled research study designed to evaluate methodologies and technologies for the detection of cannabis-impaired driving. After completion of the research study, DOH may create and implement rules and regulations to approve and certify a test for the presence of cannabis in drivers.

The legislation includes additional funding for drug recognition experts and law enforcement to ensure safe roadways.

The use of cannabis by drivers will remain prohibited and will carry the same penalties as it does currently.

Personal Possession and Home Cultivation
The following conditions apply to growing cannabis at home and personal possession of cannabis outside the home:

  • Personal possession outside of the home: up to 3 ounces cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate
  • Home possession: amends limits of what is permitted in the home, which must be kept in a secure location away from children
  • Home grow: permitted under the bill subject to possession limits in 18 months after first adult-use sales begin for adult recreational use and subject to regulations of the Medical Program being promulgated no sooner than 6 months:
    • 3 mature plants and 3 immature plants for adults over 21
      • 6 mature plants and 6 immature plants maximum per household

Criminal Justice and Record Expungement
The cannabis penalty framework will be restructured to avoid the criminalization seen in prohibition. Reduced penalties will be implemented for possession and sale.

  • Creates automatic expungement or resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding
  • Adds cannabis to the clean indoor air act which establishes a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked or vaped
  • Municipalities and local governments are permitted to make laws that are more restrictive than the CIAA. Contains various provisions to ensure that cannabis is treated as a lawful substance and to prevent discriminatory enforcement

Protections for the Use of Cannabis and Workplace Safety
Unlawful discrimination will be prohibited and workplace safety protections will be implemented.

Public Health and Education Campaign
OCM will establish a robust public health and education campaign and work with neighboring states and associations to coordinate actions and policies to protect regional health and safety.

This legislation builds on years of work to understand and decriminalize cannabis for adult use. In 2018, the Department of Health, under Governor Cuomo’s direction, conducted a multi-agency study, which concluded that the positive impacts of legalizing adult-use cannabis far outweighed the negatives. It also found that decades of cannabis prohibition have failed to achieve public health and safety goals and have led to unjust arrests and convictions particularly in communities of color.

In 2019, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to decriminalize the penalties for unlawful possession of marijuana. The legislation also put forth a process to expunge records for certain marijuana convictions. Later that year, the Governor spearheaded a multi-state summit to discuss paths towards legalization of adult-use cannabis that would ensure public health and safety and coordinate programs regionally to minimize the cross-border movement of cannabis products.

New York City Council Issues Formal Call For Decriminalizing And Legalizing Marijuana

NEW YORK:  This week, the New York City Council called for the state of New York to pass historic legislation to both decriminalize and to tax and regulate marijuana. As part of the Council’s State Budget and Legislative Agenda for the 2015-2016 legislative session, the New York City Council urged the state legislature to pass two historic marijuana policy reforms – the Fairness and Equity Act and the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA). The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito had previously announced her support for marijuana legalization in November, but this marks the first time that marijuana decriminalization and legalization have been part of the Council’s official legislative agenda.

The Fairness and Equity Act — sponsored by Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Robert Rodriquez — would finally fix New York’s decriminalization law regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana, ending racially bias marijuana arrests. The Council noted that the Act would “end the unnecessary and disproportionate arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers by ensuring that possession or sharing of small amounts of marijuana can never result in a criminal penalty.” The proposal includes additional provisions to meaningfully address the devastating collateral consequences and historic legacy of these arrests and reduce institutional racial bias across New York’s criminal justice system.

The Council also threw its support behind the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal People Stokes — which would end prohibition by creating a system to regulate, control, and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older. The Council noted that the MRTA would “would reduce the racially disparate impact of existing marijuana laws and end the cycle of branding nonviolent New Yorkers as criminals,” while generating millions of dollars in new revenue and saving millions of dollars in criminal justice resources each year.