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

 

Governor Cuomo Announces He Will Visit States That Have Legalized Cannabis Programs to Help Inform His Efforts to Pass Legislation as Part of Budget

Builds on Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Initiatives Previously Announced With Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts

Governor Cuomo: “I’m going to visit Massachusetts, Illinois and California or Colorado, which are three states that have legalized it and have different versions, and bring my team to meet with them, discuss what they’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked.”

Screenshot 2020-02-25 09.14.01NEW YORK: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he will visit states that have legalized cannabis programs to learn more about their programs to help inform his efforts to pass similar legislation in the state budget this year. This builds on the regional cannabis regulation and vaping initiatives previously announced with Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to establish a set of core principles on issues related to market regulation and empowerment; public health; public safety and enforcement; and vaping best practices.

VIDEO of the Governor’s announcement is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO is available here.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks are available below:

Governor Cuomo: One other point on marijuana, which is another issue that is in this budget. I said yesterday it is a major priority. I also want to make sure that it is done correctly, and you look at states that have legalized marijuana, many of them have generated more questions. One of those issues that everybody has goals, we want a goal of social equity, we want to make sure young people can’t get it, et cetera. We want to make sure there are advantages to communities that have been oppressed. But, then you look at the aftermath and many of those goals haven’t been met, right?

So, I’m going to visit Massachusetts, Illinois and California or Colorado, which are three states that have legalized it and have different versions, and bring my team to meet with them, discuss what they’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. Has the social equity piece worked? Has the law enforcement piece worked? So that we have the best bill and the best system when we pass it, and I want to pass it by April 1. […]

The conclusion is we want to coordinate our laws the best we can. In other words, you don’t want New York competing with New Jersey, you don’t want New York competing with Connecticut. You don’t want people driving to New Jersey, because they can get more in New Jersey, or a higher percentage in New Jersey, or they have a different age in New Jersey, or a lower tax rate. So, it’s regional coordination. But then if you look at what has happened in states that have done it, about 11 states have legalized marijuana. Everybody talks about the goals, we want a social equity component, we want to make sure it’s policed. They have all these goals, but many of the programs once they’ve been implemented and they went back and looked, they didn’t meet those goals.

You know, our political debate now is all about “I have a plan.” Yeah, everybody has a plan, but can you actually get it done and does it turn out the way you planned it, right? That’s the big question, and that’s where government usually gets into trouble. So, I want to make sure we learn from them. We have the regional coordination piece. We are the first state that has really been looking through that lens. I now literally want to go to California, Illinois, Massachusetts, sit with them, what was your plan, how did it work out, what did you learn, what can we incorporate.