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Gov. Hochul: New York’s Rollout of Legal Cannabis Sales a 'Disaster'

By:
S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Feb 2, 2024

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Faulting her predecessor and the New York state legislature, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the state’s rollout of cannabis legalization a “disaster” in an interview with the editorial board of her hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News.

“You have to go back to the very beginning,” she said. “Prior to my time (as governor), the legislation was crafted in a way that was not poised for success.”

Hochul said that that law had no “teeth,” observing that unauthorized marijuana sales in New York City are not on every street corner, but “every other storefront. It is insane.”

Hochul told the editorial board that she wants the State Legislature to empower local police to stop the sale of unlicensed, untaxed cannabis. “I think it should be treated the way tobacco is: local law enforcement can stop illegal sale of cigarettes that are not licensed and taxed,” she said.

The governor’s issues are not with the policy of legalizing cannabis, but with the way in which the  Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act structures and regulates the emergence of the new market. “I’m glad we stopped the mass incarceration of young people for consumption,” she said. “It’s the right policy.”

While the law made the recreation use of cannabis legal very fast, it also made the process of being able to sell it legally in New York slow and difficult, which provided illegal purveyors with opportunities to set up shop.

The New York City Council estimated in August of last year that there could be as many as 8,000 illegal smoke shops selling cannabis in the city.

There are only 59 operational legal cannabis dispensaries in the state as of Jan. 26, according to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). The first one opened for business on Dec. 29, 2022 in Manhattan. The agency has over 4,300 retail permit applications on file from the most recent application window, which closed in December, according to Green Market Report.

“There’s a strong part of me that would just like to go in and just start over,” Hochul said of the law. “But I’d have to go back to the Legislature and convince them to change the laws in every way I’ve described. It’s probably not likely to happen.”

“There should be strict penalties and fines, and there aren’t,” she said. “The Legislature needs to increase the penalties, and I’ve tried. I’ll try again.”

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