By Charles J. Messina, Esq., Jennifer Roselle, Esq. and Donald W. Clarke, Esq. of Genova Burns LLC
After several failed attempts, and seemingly the result of catching significant political heat as of late, Governor Cuomo is allowing the adult-use cannabis industry to blaze forward in New York.
With Gov. Cuomo’s signature, the bill (S.854-A), known as the “Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act” (MRTA), establishes the legislative foundation upon which a regulatory infrastructure will be built to host a network of licensed operators to cultivate, process, distribute, sell, and host cannabis consumers. In addition to regulating adult use of cannabis, MRTA also amends the state’s existing medical use law (the New York Compassionate Care Act) and provides, among other things, rules for hemp, CBD, and other cannabis extracts.
What does MRTA mean for New Yorkers?
First, adults may personally possess up to 3 ounces of plant cannabis (and 24 grams of “concentrated cannabis”) without being prosecuted or arrested. In addition to decriminalization, the law also expunges convictions based on conduct which is now authorized under MRTA.
Unlike New Jersey’s recently approved cannabis legislation, consumption of cannabis will be permitted in the same (or similar) places as vaping and cigarettes. Also, New Yorkers will be able to grow their own cannabis. Although “home grow” will be delayed for months until after more rules are promulgated and retail sales commence, a household will be able to grow a maximum of up to twelve plants (six mature, and six immature), with a five-pound possession limit for adults.
Throughout MRTA, there is a heavy focus on social and economic equity. This is integrated in the application process, apportionment of tax revenue, and adjustments made to the penal code. Certain applicants can qualify as a “social and economic equity applicant” to help the Office of Cannabis Management reach its goal of awarding 50% of licenses to minority or woman-owned business enterprises, distressed farmers, or service-disabled veterans.
What is the Office of Cannabis Management?
Similar to New Jersey, the law’s terms will be supplemented by not-yet-created regulations. The regulatory framework will be created by a cannabis Advisory Board and carried out by the newly established Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). The OCM will be an independent office operating as part of the New York State Liquor Authority. It will have a five-member board, with three members appointed by the Governor and one appointed by each house.
What types of licenses are there and when will sales get rolling?
Because much of the regulatory licensing framework does not yet exist, there is no established start date. Reports suggest sales could commence as early as December 2022. Home-growers for recreational use must wait no less than 18 months after the initial retail sales to plant their seeds. The tiered licensing structure prohibits those upstream in the production process from selling to the general public.
The available licenses include:
*Cultivator License—includes the agricultural production of cannabis and minimal processing and preparation.
*Processor License—includes blending, extracting, infusing, packaging, and preparing cannabis for sale. There is a limit of one license per processor, but each license can authorize multiple locations.
*Distributor License—authorizes the acquisition, possession, distribution, and sale of cannabis from a licensed cultivator or processor to retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites.
*Retail Dispensary License—authorizes the sale of cannabis to consumers, with a limit of three retail dispensary licenses per person. A retail licensee may not also hold a Cultivator, Processor, Microbusiness, Cooperative, or Distributor License.
*Cooperative License—authorizes the acquisition, possession, cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale from the licensed premises of the cooperative to distributors, on-site consumption sites, and retail dispensaries, but not directly to consumers.
*Microbusiness License—authorizes limited cultivation, processing, distribution, delivery, and dispensing of the licensee’s own adult use cannabis and cannabis products. A microbusiness licensee may not hold any other license, and may only distribute its own products to dispensaries.
*Delivery License—authorizes the delivery of products by licensees independent of another license.
*Nursery License—authorizes the production, sale, and distribution of clones, immature plants, seeds, and other agricultural products used specifically for the planting, propagation, and cultivation of cannabis by cultivators, cooperatives, and microbusinesses.
*On-Site Consumption License—authorizes the establishment of a location for the on-site consumption of cannabis.
How will cannabis be taxed in NY and where is the revenue going?
MRTA places the tax on cannabis based upon the amount of the chemical compound that delivers effects to users (THC). There will be a 9% state tax at the retail level. A local excise tax will be 4% of the retail price. Counties will receive 25% of the local retail tax revenue, and 75% will go to the municipality. Municipalities can, however, enact legislation to opt out of permitting retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses within its borders.
MRTA mandates that 40% of the estimated $350 million in tax revenues will go to community grants and reinvestment, and 20% will go to drug treatment and education. The final 40% is earmarked for schools as of now.
What will be the impact on NY employers and employees?
Employers have no legal obligation to permit adult-use cannabis in their workplace. In addition, while offsite usage is protected, the law includes provisions that allow employers to take action against employees who are impaired at work if their performance is lessened, or the employee’s conduct interferes with the ability to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Employers may likewise act to comply with local, state, or federal laws or allow conduct that would result in loss of a federal contract or federal funding.
Charles J. Messina is a Partner at Genova Burns LLC and Co-Chairs the Franchise & Distribution, Agriculture and Cannabis Industry Groups. He teaches one of the region’s first cannabis law school courses and devotes much of his practice to advising canna-businesses as well as litigating various types of matters including complex contract and commercial disputes, insurance and employment defense matters, trademark and franchise issues and professional liability, TCPA and shareholder derivative actions.
Jennifer Roselle is Counsel with Genova Burns LLC and Co-Chair of Genova Burns’ Cannabis Practice Group. She has unique experience with labor compliance planning and labor peace agreements in the cannabis marketplace. In addition to her work in the cannabis industry, Jennifer devotes much of her practice to traditional labor matters, human resources compliance and employer counseling.
Donald W. Clarke is Counsel at Genova Burns LLC and a member of the firm’s Bankruptcy, Reorganization and Creditors Rights and Cannabis Law Groups. He has extensive experience with complex restructuring matters and a comprehensive understanding of federal, state, and local laws, including regulatory requirements, across all industries. This experience has enabled Mr. Clarke to assist clients with their navigation of such regulatory schemes outside of bankruptcy, including in the space of cannabis law.
For over 30 years, Genova Burns LLC has partnered with companies, businesses, trade associations, and government entities, from around the globe, on matters in New Jersey and the greater northeast corridor between New York City and Washington, D.C. We distinguish ourselves with unparalleled responsiveness and provide an array of exceptional legal services across multiple practice areas with the quality expected of big law, but absent the big law economics by embracing technology and offering out of the box problem-solving advice and pragmatic solutions.
Given Genova Burns’ significant experience representing clients in the cannabis, hemp and CBD industries from the earliest stages of development in the region, the firm is uniquely qualified to advise investors, cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers and ancillary businesses.