More than 200 people attended the NY Cannabis Insider’s first in-person live event in Albany last Friday, where a diverse lineup of speakers discussed timely marijuana industry topics such as conditional licensing, New York’s medical cannabis program and the legacy market.
In addition to watching the panel discussions, many at the event took advantage of free business planning consultations and headshots.
NY Cannabis Insider held the event a day after New York’s Cannabis Control Board approved another 58 conditional cultivator licenses, and an early panel discussion covered conditional licensing.
The conditional retail licenses have very stringent requirements as to who qualifies, said Wei Hu, a conference panelist and founder of MRTA Law. Successful applicants for this license must be “justice involved” (or “injustice involved,” as Hu phrased it), which means they – or a family member – were convicted of a New York marijuana crime. That’s in addition to a requirement that the applicant has a track record of running a profitable business.
“One person must meet both elements, not just one… [they] must also have at least 10% ownership in a business that was profitable for two years, ”Hu said. People who meet all standards of eligibility are “gold unicorns,” Hu said.
“These are very stringent requirements – people have been complaining about them,” Hu said. “So if you met them, if I were in your shoes, I would apply.”
During the panel, Ngiste Abebe, vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, president of the NY Medical Cannabis Industry Association, said that even if regulations were set with the best of intentions, some requirements could freeze out the same people the conditional licenses were meant to help.
“I have family members with convictions, and they definitely couldn’t start and have a business that was profitable for two years,” Abebe said. “How is that really going to play out, and who gets to succeed? Because let me tell you, the folks that are most likely to go on and have the most successful careers are the white folks who have cannabis convictions in the suburbs. ”
Another panel at NY Cannabis Insider Live focused on veterans’ issues within the cannabis industry. During that talk, Sarah Stenuf, the founder and director of Veteran’s Ananda Inc. and CEO of Ananda Farms, spoke about how drug testing for marijuana in the military has led many to use alcohol and hard drugs like cocaine, because they’re less likely to show up on a urinalysis screening.
Stenuf, a former Army soldier whose business was granted a conditional growers license, said there are many reasons why cannabis companies should consider hiring veterans. In addition to available tax write-offs and the fact that most veterans already have health insurance through the US Department of Veterans Affairs, they also possess transferable skills.
“There’s a lot of benefits to hiring vets, but the biggest thing for me: it’s the leadership, it’s the discipline, it’s the persistence,” Stenuf said. “You’re not going to find individuals who will work as hard and as loyal as we do.”
The event continued with a panel discussion on New York’s medical cannabis program, the oversight of which was recently moved from the New York State Department of Health to the Office of Cannabis Management.
Katie Neer, general counsel at cannabis delivery startup Lantern and attorney at Dickinson & Avella, detailed the origins of the state medical program. Neer, who previously served in Andrew Cuomo’s administration, said the former governor made sure the medical program was smaller than the state legislators intended.
“At a time when former Gov. Cuomo’s power was high and he had a lot of leverage, he really forced a negotiation on this issue, and the result on the bill that was passed was it looked very different than the original vision, ”Neer said. “It was a much more conservative program, a very limited program.”
Timothy Mitchell, a panelist and patient advocate, said medical patients today are having major difficulties registering with the state to be able to purchase weed from dispensaries.
“We’re seeing people showing up to dispensaries with temporary cards being denied medicine, because apparently there wasn’t a bar code that was required on the card,” Mitchell said. “We’re seeing a lot of people complain that it’s not just a day or two going by not being able to get their registration, there are people complaining about 30-40 days.”
Closing out the day, Joshua Alb, founder of Cannademix, gave a presentation on the legacy market, and the pros and cons for legacy operators applying for licenses. Alb said some ways to make it easier for legacy operators to enter the legal market would be to lower barriers to entry, create grant programs for equity applicants and to prioritize legacy applicants for licensing. He also floated some ideas of how to alleviate concerns of self-incrimination among legacy operators.
“How do you prove legacy without incrimination?” Alb asked. “Real simple: don’t ask, don’t tell.”