Sunday April 3, 2022
By Erin Hiatt
Despite New York’s reputation as a liberal stronghold, New York lawmakers have held fairly conservative views about marijuana legalization in any form – even though New Yorkers smoke more pot than any other city in the world. By a lot.
Marijuana Legalization in New York
Originally restricted to medical use as far back as 1914, marijuana was outlawed altogether in 1927, even before the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that taxed marijuana into de facto oblivion. It wasn’t until 2014 that New York lawmakers passed the Compassionate Care Act, which finally ushered medical marijuana into the Empire State — albeit one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country.
Fast forward to March 31, 2021, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) that legalized weed for all adults 21 and older, finally bringing New York’s marijuana laws into alignment with their pot loving citizenry.
Now that adult-use cannabis is legal in New York, how do New York’s medical dispensaries feel about New York’s new marijuana laws? Let’s dig in.
New York’s Medical Marijuana Licenses
Medical marijuana licenses were initially limited to five companies in a state of approximately twenty million people, and the program was regularly derided for its barriers and expense for doctors who wished to provide recommendations, patient difficulty in finding legitimate marijuana doctors, lack of access, and the high cost to both patients and dispensary operators.
One of those original license recipients is Etain Health, New York’s only female-led medical marijuana dispensary. In April 2021, Hillary Peckham, Chief Operating Officer of Etain, sat down with longtime Spectrum News NY1 reporter Cheryl Wills to share her thoughts about the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act with the potential impact on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Peckham expressed her unequivocal support for MRTA. For her, the law is a “necessary and excellent initiative” because the law is focused on equity provisions (50% of new licenses must be rewarded to women, people with disabilities, legacy growers, and entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs) that go beyond the rewarding of licenses, and into access to capital for new cannabis business owners with low and no interest loans, and ongoing support once a license has been given.
However, Peckham’s concern is focused on increasing medical marijuana access to patients. “I would like to see expedited regulations for the medical marijuana program moving forward,” Peckham told Wills. “We’ve been waiting on the MRTA. A lot of patients that qualify [for medical conditions] don’t in New York. We’ve been waiting and patients have been waiting on increased access.”
Changes to New York’s Medical Marijuana Laws
Judging by some recent moves by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Cannabis Control Board (CCB), Peckham’s wish has come true. Even without an adult-use legal market in place, the MRTA has already increased access for medical marijuana patients.
A recent flurry of changes to New York’s medical marijuana market include:
- Allowing whole flower and the smoking of cannabis
- Increased supply from 30 to 60 days
- Medical practitioners can now certify patients for any condition that they believe medical marijuana may benefit
- Increasing allowed caregivers to store and administer medical marijuana from two to five
- Patients will no longer pay state fees
- Medical marijuana registered organizations may open up to four additional dispensaries
- Increasing the kinds of registered practitioners in New York who can provide medical marijuana recommendations
The biggest change for New York’s medical marijuana dispensary owners is yet to come. Perhaps most importantly for Etain and others, tucked into the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act is a provision that gives current medical marijuana dispensaries a place in a new adult-use marketplace.
“With adult-use cannabis, we’ll have access to all of the adult population in New York that wants to purchase cannabis,” Peckham said. “We’ll have to scale our business to meet that [demand] and get ready to sell to a bigger market.”
New York’s adult-use market is currently nebulous and unformed. As of this writing, the Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board are in the public education phase. Beyond that lies opening the license application period, a public comment period, the rewarding of licenses, and so much more.
But companies like Etain, who have been working with state and local lawmakers on cannabis since 2015, seem well-positioned to succeed in the upcoming adult-use market.
Do you live in New York? Are you excited about the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to make changes in the state’s marijuana market?
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