March 2024 Regional Cannabis News: Licensing Review in NY, Legal Battles in Hemp, and More  

A photo inside a dispensary. A point of sale system on a tablet is on display in the foreground, open atop a glass case. Three people can be seen out of focus shopping and assisting a customer in the background.

Each month, Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) offers a convenient roundup of the biggest cannabis news stories and hemp headlines emerging across the Northeast. Get these updates in your inbox by subscribing to our email newsletter, or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter (now X) to get the most recent edition when it’s published.

March held some big headlines for the Northeast’s cannabis industry, including Pennsylvania lawmakers reigniting legalization discussions and New Jersey’s milestone achievement of surpassing 100 operational cannabis dispensaries. Here are the details you need to know about some of the latest advancements shaping the landscape across the East Coast. 

Hochul orders ‘top-down’ review of New York cannabis licensing process

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) has officially ordered a comprehensive “top-down” review of the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) licensing process. Hochul announced the review while recognizing the shortcomings and challenges the existing framework posed following cannabis legalization. The governor enlisted the expertise of Jeanette Moy, the commissioner for the Office of General Services, to overhaul the process and streamline operations. 

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the internal audit will last at least 30 days and include:

  • Top-down review of organizational structure, processes, and systems with a focus on improving OCM license processing times and application-to-opening timeframes for new cannabis retailers and businesses.

  • Development of key performance metrics and an executive-level licensing dashboard to provide the Executive Chamber with a timely, accurate, and comprehensive picture of licensing activity for legal retailers.

  • Identification and implementation of changes to policy, procedure, and regulation (within the bounds of the MRTA) to streamline the licensing process and simplify application and review for prospective licensees.

  • Development of three-month and six-month action plans with organizational change initiatives, milestones, and actions to continue improving agency functions while developing a world-class licensing and regulatory agency for the state’s cannabis industry.

After the 30-day assessment, Moy and her team will consider a prolonged examination of the OCM and its practices.

New York hemp companies sue to overturn new state rules

The New York State Cannabis Control Board (CCB) passed stringent regulations in November 2023, which imposed a mandatory 15-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC in hemp-based products and limited potency to  mg THC per serving or 5mg THC per package.

These rules made an estimated 75% of already available hemp goods suddenly illegal and sparked outrage among state-licensed companies. On March 1, a lawsuit was filed in federal court as a result. 

The lawsuit, brought by 10 hemp companies, alleges the enforcement of these regulations, coupled with aggressive raids targeting the illicit market, has caused significant financial losses for hemp businesses and infringed upon their constitutional rights. According to the lawsuit, the change “drastically limits the products available for market” and will push New York consumers “into the illicit market and underground market.” 

“We will not standby and allow the State to violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, engage in warrantless searches and seizures, and maliciously disrupt their businesses in a misguided effort to shut down unlicensed cannabis stores, which have nothing to do with hemp businesses operating in full compliance with both state and federal law,” Joshua Bauchner, chair of the Cannabis, Hemp and Psychedelics Practice Group at New Jersey-based law firm Mandelbaum Barrett said.

New Jersey surpasses 100 cannabis stores, sales top $2 billion in last six years

New Jersey has achieved a notable milestone in its cannabis industry, officially surpassing 100 cannabis stores. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s (NJCRC) website confirms the presence of 102 medical and adult-use retail locations statewide. In addition, the group shared that the state’s total cannabis sales over the last six years have exceeded $2 billion. 

“These are early signs of the potential of this market. Sales have grown steadily since Governor Murphy began the work to reform New Jersey’s cannabis market,” said NJCRC Executive Director Jeff Brown in a statement.

Pennsylvania joint committee takes up cannabis legalization as governor renews push for reform

Pennsylvania lawmakers are once again pushing for cannabis legalization, with a recent focus on Prohibition’s criminal justice implications and the potential benefits of reform. Members of the Subcommittee on Health Care and the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Correction convened for a hearing explicitly addressing these issues. 

During the hearing, Representative Dan Frankel, chair of the Health Committee and a previous sponsor of cannabis legalization legislation, expressed confidence in the state’s readiness to advance cannabis reform. “I think we are really well-positioned to move forward with legislation,” said Frankel. 

Rep. Rick Krajewski (D) stressed criminal justice and record expungement as one area lawmakers “really need to get right, and get right on the first time, given what we know about the criminalization of cannabis and the ways it has impacted Black and brown communities, working class communities and the ways in which that record still carries a burden.”

Responsible PA has also formed a coalition focused on calling for the legalization of adult-use cannabis, saying they intend to inform lawmakers as they continue to explore the issue. The coalition brings together patient advocates, doctors, scientists, researchers, laboratories, economic development groups, members of law enforcement, local elected officials, labor, and civil and social equity community organizations from across the state. 

“Pennsylvania has the opportunity to build from the success of its medical cannabis program while ensuring full market access for regulated products,” said Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene (R). “Just as we do with medical cannabis, we can properly regulate adult-use marijuana with stringent health and safety standards backed by regulatory oversight.”

Exploring East Coast cannabis with CWCBExpo 

From legislative debates to market milestones, the East Coast is shaping the future of cannabis. The upcoming CWCBExpo on June 5 and 6 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City promises to be a key event for professionals like yourself, offering networking opportunities and insights. Let’s stay informed, engaged, and proactive in driving positive change and innovation within the industry. 

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