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New York regulators expand who can prescribe medical pot as they ramp up to recreational sales

Steven Senne

New York held the first meeting of its new Cannabis Control Board this week. The board wants to ramp up the state’s recreational marijuana industry that’s expected to roll out next year.

Board Chairwoman Tremaine Wright said there are ethical considerations they need to make about implementing the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

“The MRTA is an exceptional piece of legislation with goals to create a new industry that is diverse and inclusive and conscious of the harms caused by the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition,” she said.

During its first meetings, the board expanded the eligibility for providers of medical marijuana. Anyone that has a license to prescribe controled substances can administer pot, including midwives, dentists and pediatricians. Over 151,000 patients in New York already have access to medical marijauna.

Medical pot dispensaries can also sell whole-leaf pot, which cuts down on production time for cannabis growers.

Still, David Falkowski, the Long Island chairman of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said the board has a lot more work to do in order to see retail sales by 2023.

“I think on all fronts, every sector, whether it's public or private, entities or communities, the consensus is that we want to get this right out of the gate,” Falkowski said.

The board’s five-member panel is responsible for developing an equitable framework for the state’s cannabis industry. Falkowski said the state has an additional responsibility to make sure small farms, like his cannabis operation in eastern Long Island, are able to compete with big companies coming into the state.

Under state law, half of retail pot licenses are required to go to social equity applicants, which include communities and individuals impacted by policing against drugs.

Damian Fagon, a board member of the state cannabis association, said he believes there are many steps the state can take to ramp up education about the business of selling marijuana legally.

“Next year we are planning on launching a $4 billion industry in the state of New York, and we have yet to prepare any of our students to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said. Fagon was a Black hemp grower in the Hudson Valley, but he’s recently refocused on cannabis education in the Bronx.

In New York, cities, towns and villages have to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana to be sold before the end of the year. That means forgoing around 4% in sales tax revenue. The state will get 9% from marijuana sales. Local governments can’t prohibit the possession of the drug. Officials can restrict where in public it is used.

The cannabis control board will reinvest 40% of the sales tax on the pot sales into communities.

John is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.