Here’s How New York’s Cannabis Companies Lobbied in the Legislature’s Final Days

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As summer neared and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for adult use legalization-by-budget failed, the state’s medical cannabis operators threw their weight — and lobbying power — behind myriad bills to reform cannabis laws in the state. 

Cuomo, and many lawmakers, tried to legalize cannabis for adult use this spring. But when it came down to details like equity provisions, taxes, and home grow, a consensus never emerged before deadlines. What passed instead was one bill to expand decriminalization in the state. 

“The decriminalization was the best we could get, honestly, but it is only a step. After all, in the absence of a legal, regulated market, you are still buying it from criminals,” legalization supporter Sen. Diane Savino told Cannabis Wire after the decriminalization bill was signed. 

“I think it is too early to take the temperature for next year. The local elections in the suburbs will be a harbinger of next year.”

So what did New York’s registered operators care about this spring, as the push for adult use looked less likely by the day?

Recently released May and June state lobbying disclosures show that the state’s registered operators tried to push both Cuomo’s office and dozens of lawmakers who introduced a wide range of bills to reform the state’s laws, from adult-use legalization, to medical cannabis expansion, to hemp regulation. 

Five of the 10 registered operators lobbied Axel Bernabe, the assistant counsel to Governor Cuomo for Health, on both the budget and medical cannabis: Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, Columbia Care, MedMen, Acreage Holdings, and PharmaCann (which is in the process of being acquired by MedMen).

Bernabe is responsible for overseeing the implementation of any adult-use, medical, or hemp efforts in New York. (He was in the audience at a CWCBExpo panel called “Dispensary Owner/Operator Panel: Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs,” on which Curaleaf NY president and CEO Michelle Bodner and Etain CEO Hillary Peckham spoke.)

Fiorello, PharmaCann, MedMen, Columbia Care, and Curaleaf all submitted lobbying registrations related to the state’s budget, which Cuomo signed without legalization making the cut. 

Assembly Bill A1617B, which would have legalized cannabis for adult use and was sponsored by Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, saw lobbying registrations from Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, PharmaCann, Columbia Care, Curaleaf, Acreage, and Etain. The same companies also submitted registrations for Senate Bill S1527B, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger. Collectively, these bills became known as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

The focus for some companies also turned toward medical cannabis expansion. For example, MedMen, Columbia Care, Curaleaf, and Acreage Holdings submitted lobbying registrations for Senate Bill S5657A, a medical cannabis expansion bill sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino. Columbia Care, Curaleaf, and Acreage also filed registrations for the Assembly version of the medical cannabis expansion proposal, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried. 

(Vireo Health also lobbied more than a dozen lawmakers focused on cannabis law reform on adult use legalization and medical cannabis, but their registrations were less specific than other ROs.)

Curaleaf lobbied on the most bills in May and June, while Valley Agriceuticals and Citiva Medical didn’t file any lobbying registrations. 

There were some interesting outliers, too. While it didn’t get much lobbying power, Curaleaf filed on behalf of a bill sponsored by Savino that would have provided access to medical cannabis for animals. The company also lobbied related to legislation that would add autism as a qualifying condition. 

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