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

 

State Regulators Start “Cannabis Regulators Association”

Group will help navigate cannabis regulations at federal, state, and local levels

OREGON:  Today state cannabis regulators from across the United States announced formation of a non-partisan organization, the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), to better share institutional knowledge and regulatory best practices. Cannabis regulators from 19 states have joined in filing documents to establish CANNRA, which is being created in order to assist federal, state, and local jurisdictions that have approved or are weighing legalization of cannabis.

“The Cannabis Regulators Association will provide a much needed forum for regulators to engage with each other to identify and develop best practices, create model policies that safeguard public health and safety, and promote regulatory certainty for industry participants,” said Norman Birenbaum, CANNRA’s inaugural president.

For years, cannabis regulators across the country have relied on each other to share regulatory experiences, institutional expertise, and to provide assistance navigating the numerous evolving policy and regulatory issues associated with legalizing and regulating cannabis. Often the first step for state and local jurisdictions weighing legalization is to engage with regulators from established markets and programs. However, there has never been an organization to facilitate these interactions or help stakeholders find objective data and evidence-based approaches to policymaking and implementation.

The Cannabis Regulators Association is not an advocacy group and takes no formal position for or against cannabis legalization, but rather seeks to provide government jurisdictions with unbiased information to help make informed decisions when considering whether or how to legalize or expand regulated cannabis.

CANNRA will facilitate communication and information sharing between subject matter experts in regulatory approaches for industrial hemp, medical cannabis, and adult-use cannabis. This will include exchanges with research organizations, public health officials, policymakers, legal authorities, advocacy groups, and cannabis industry participants.

 “The association will strive to create and promote harmony and standardization across jurisdictions which choose to legalize and regulate cannabis,” said Birenbaum. Birenbaum currently serves as the Director of Cannabis Programs for New York State.  “The Cannabis Regulators Association will also work to ensure federal officials benefit from the vast experiences of states across the nation to ensure any changes to federal law adequately address states’ needs and priorities,” he said.

CANNRA founding members include the principal cannabis regulators from 19 states: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington.

“I am proud that the nation’s first Cannabis Regulators Roundtable meeting was hosted by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) in April 2017 with just the first four states to legalize adult-use cannabis: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska,” said WSLCB Director Rick Garza.  “The future was clear then that more states would soon follow.  Today, this body is in position to provide regulatory guidance to the federal government should it move towards declassification of cannabis and legalization nationwide.”

Additional state regulators are expected to soon join CANNRA; CANNRA anticipates providing membership opportunities for county and municipal cannabis regulators in the near future. Membership is limited to regulators and representatives from relevant government offices. Membership in CANNRA is not available to industry participants or advocacy organizations.

CANNRA members will be able to access a national registry of member regulators, resources for cannabis policy development and staff training, and will have the ability to access, and participate in the development of model standards and best practices for cannabis regulation.

Members will also be eligible to attend exclusive “Regulator Roundtable” conferences and programs, and receive legislative analyses, policy tracking data, and bulletins on current issues and events in the cannabis industry and regulatory arena.

CANNRA’s executive officers will include Norman Birenbaum, Director of Cannabis Programs for New York State as President; Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board as First Vice President; Jim Burack, Director of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division as Second Vice President; Andrew Brisbo, Executive Director of Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency as Third Vice President; and Tyler Klimas, Executive Director of Nevada’s Cannabis Compliance Board as Secretary Treasurer.

“Our intent in forming this organization is to have CANNRA serve as a resource for policy makers, elected officials, researchers, and other stakeholders to engage with regulators from across the country and receive unbiased information and recommendations regarding the impact and implementation of cannabis policies,” said Birenbaum.

For more information about the Cannabis Regulators Association or to inquire about membership please visit www.Cann-RA.org or email info@Cann-RA.org.