Home News Clearing out the smoke: Hochul starts clean up of botched cannabis plan

Clearing out the smoke: Hochul starts clean up of botched cannabis plan

Approximately as helpful as an end-of-season study cataloging playcalling mistakes by the Jets and Giants, a New York State government review of the cannabis rollout has just listed a long litany of design flaws and errors by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) that have hindered the growth of the legal market.

Now that Gov. Hochul is supposedly righting the ship, and Albany has supposedly empowered New York City to clamp down on the illegal market, and the city is supposedly leaning into its responsibility — we say “supposedly” because we’ll believe all this when we see it — if you squint hard, a coherent strategy to make things right is finally coming into focus. Or not.

The headline finding in the report issued Friday by Commissioner Jeanette Moy of the state Office of General Services, ordered up by Hochul in March, is that despite a promise that reviews would be swift, approvals (or denials) have stretched on for months or years. Some 1,200 businesses are now bobbing around in limbo despite having poured lots of money into finding locations and navigating bureaucratic hurdles.

Why so slow going? In part, says Moy, because an understaffed OCM could only consider 75 applications at a time. In part because the inherent complexities of the process have thrown buckets of sand in the gears.

OCM must get its act together. As the report makes clear, that means hiring more weedocrats, streamlining processes and providing a public dashboard showing the status of applications. Hochul hopefully helped things along Friday by waving goodbye to OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander and Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon.

Finally, some heads are rolling. We never understood why Alexander still had a job. Perhaps, as Hochul said, he “was a key player in drafting the original legislation.” She fired him kindly, saying: “he agrees it’s time for a new direction at OCM and has graciously agreed to work with us for the remainder of his term to help implement those operational changes. He told us he intends to pursue other opportunities at the conclusion of that term, which is in September.” September can’t come soon enough.

There’s another thing that must happen to give legal dispensaries (about 60 of which are in New York) a fighting chance: shuttering the illegal shops, which number in the thousands in the city alone. Like cicadas, they keep emerging on seemingly every block.

They sell soda and candy alongside the drugs; legal shops can’t. They are often near schools and one another; those locations are verboten to legal shops. And because they illegally stock wares from outside New York State — and don’t pay their taxes — the illegals underprice the legals. Game, set, match.

As long as the illegals thrive, the legals have no chance to gain a true foothold in the marketplace, which makes a mockery of good governance and a special mockery of the state’s promise to give those harmed by the war on drugs a leg up in this new marketplace.

Tuesday, Mayor Adams stood with the New York City sheriff, the NYPD and the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to kick off “Operation Padlock to Protect.” The promise is that, empowered by new legal authorities in the state budget, the city will really now start shuttering illegal pot shops as it has promised to do multiple times before. No longer will an understaffed sheriff’s office shoulder the burden on its own. Now, police deputized by the sheriff will assist.

At the rollout of the new-and-improved enforcement push, Adams was careful to manage expectations: “The power is not ideal,” he said. “We would like ideally for police to do an analysis in each precinct, zero in on the shops in their precinct. We don’t have that…[Police] have to be deputized by sheriff, they have to put a couple teams in place and then after you close down the shop, there is a process that allows them to reopen after a certain period of time. There are a lot of layers to this.”

Our fingers are crossed, but that sounds a lot like the preamble of a future review about how yet another attempt to fix a broken system was doomed to fail.


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