New York State Holds ‘Listening Sessions’ on Cannabis Legalization

By Noah Potter, Of Counsel to Hoban Law Group

Last month, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced a series of 15 listening sessions about cannabis legalization (including one in Manhattan last week) to hear public comment through October.

Cuomo’s new approach contrasts with the process that resulted in enactment of the Compassionate Care Act, New York’s medical-use-only statute, in 2014. At that time, during an intense lobbying push by reform advocates, the governor offered few comments about the legislation before announcing the terms he would accept in a medical cannabis system, resulting in one of the nation’s most restrictive medical-use systems. He is now actively leading a full legalization effort, and giving opportunity for public comment.

This past July, Cuomo announced formation of a workgroup to engage with the leadership of the Senate and the Assembly, “as well as bill sponsors of medical and regulated marijuana legislation,” suggesting that while such input will be welcome, the workgroup might yet engage in a completely new drafting exercise.

A fundamental question is what part of the government will act as the lead regulatory agency in an adult-use market. The tax-and-regulate bill that was introduced by reformist legislators from 2013 to 2017 modeled legalization on alcohol control. However, the workgroup has no representative from the State Liquor Authority, suggesting that the governor is not considering the alcohol-control model. Regulatory control over the cannabis plant is currently split between the Department of Health (regulating the medical-use program) and the Department of Agriculture and Markets (regulating the industrial hemp program). Assigning regulatory authority over an adult-use market to a third agency could further fragment regulatory control. A single, freestanding agency regulating all aspects of the cannabis plant would be unusual, but could match the unique hybrid nature of cannabis (encompassing adult, medical, agricultural, and industrial uses).

Greater New York City is the largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a massive bureaucratic apparatus, but it is also not represented in the workgroup. There is support for legalization within the City Council and from other elected officials but, while the State is moving forward quickly towards legalization, the Council has not held hearings on legalization nor offered any specific proposals to be included in the law. Considering the complicated relationship between the State and the City, active engagement in the process of legalization by the City government, stakeholders, and voters seems like an essential factor in creating a successful adult-use market.

Noah Potter has over 20 years of experience and relationships in the drug policy reform sector. He handles a wide range of commercial and civil matters, including corporate control disputes and commercial torts, property easement disputes, commercial real estate foreclosure, and non-competition agreements. He can be reached at: