Albany Agenda

Assembly is silent on expanding state cannabis agency enforcement power

The state Senate and the governor both want to expand enforcement powers of the state Office of Cannabis Management.

Lawmakers want to crack down on illegal pot shops, but differ on how that should be done.

Lawmakers want to crack down on illegal pot shops, but differ on how that should be done. Deb Cohn-Orbach/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Protecting New York’s adult-use cannabis industry, especially after a tricky rollout, remains a priority for Democratic state lawmakers as they prepare a new budget. Proposals in the state Legislature’s one-house budgets included relief funds, grants, subsidies and new tax structures. However, between Gov. Kathy Hochul, the state Senate and the Assembly, everyone has a different idea of how to stop the spread of illegal dispensaries – one of the biggest roadblocks, advocates say, to a successful rollout. 

The Assembly’s one-house budget made the bold move of removing any mention of expanding the state Office of Cannabis Management’s enforcement powers, a proposal Hochul included in her executive budget proposal. The governor’s idea was that the OCM could issue padlock orders for illegal cannabis businesses and local law enforcement would have a smoother path to enforce them. Enforcement as it stands looks more like raids and temporary closures that barely disrupt the flow of business for offending dispensaries. 

The state Senate said in its one-house budget language it would add to Hochul’s plan, giving agencies more power to take action against property owners of storefronts with illicit cannabis stores, expand the hours that administrative inspections can happen and empower local law enforcement and courts to create their own local laws to combat illegal dispensaries and make it easier to secure closing order against dispensaries in local court.  

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was mum on Wednesday on why the Assembly chose to remove the budget provision expanding OCM’s enforcement power or what it planned to do instead. “That’s policy,” Heastie said. “No policy in the one-house.” He added that it’s something the Assembly was “fine discussing,” outside of the budget process. 

On Thursday during a floor debate on the budget, Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein told Republican Assembly Member Matthew Slater that the Assembly did plan to increase funding for OCM so it could hire more full-time investigators. The issue had come up in previous hearings as lawmakers had asked how to improve the output of OCM. 

OCM has increasingly come under fire over both its output, delayed by lawsuits and labored license approvals, and recently its conduct, being accused of selective enforcement by some cannabis entrepreneurs in the state. Hochul has even suggested that leadership changes could be in order.  

The state Senate and Assembly were poised to approve their one-house budgets Thursday afternoon ahead of more substantive negotiations with the governor. The budget is due April 1.