In a recent interview with the Buffalo News, Gov. Kathy Hochul acknowledged that the implementation of New York’s Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—the 2021 law that legalized the cultivation, sale, taxation, and use of marijuana for non-medical reasons—has been a “disaster.”
Gov. Hochul’s honesty on this point is refreshing. Unfortunately, however, the Governor is incorrect in her analysis of the causes of the problem and the best way to solve it.
In her recent remarks, Gov. Hochul asserted that the state of New York was right to legalize recreational marijuana because young people should not receive jail sentences simply because they have used a drug. However, the Governor stated that the law—which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 31, 2021—was “‘crafted in a way that was not poised for success.’” The Governor added that the structure of the state’s regulatory scheme for marijuana created ambiguity as to whether the executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management or the chair of the Cannabis Control Board was the ultimate decisionmaker. Gov. Hochul also argued that the involvement of the state’s Dormitory Authority in helping to find locations for marijuana businesses had been ill-advised.
It cannot be disputed that the Office of Cannabis Management has moved at a glacially slow pace in granting licenses for the sale of recreational marijuana. The slow licensure progress was highlighted on January 23, 2024, when the Cannabis Control Board canceled its January meeting; according to The City, only three licenses for marijuana dispensaries were on track to be considered at the January meeting. The state’s slow progress regarding licensure has led, in part, to an unintended consequence: Sales of unlicensed marijuana have run rampant—especially in New York City. Gov. Hochul noted that unlicensed marijuana sales are not happening on “‘every street corner. It is every other storefront. It is insane.’”
Gov. Hochul told the Buffalo News that she had considered going back to the drawing board and passing a new marijuana law, but concluded that the Legislature would likely be uninterested in that idea. The Governor does, however, want the Legislature to pass a law giving police more authority to prevent or punish unlicensed marijuana sales and a law creating stricter penalties for unlicensed marijuana sales. According to the Governor, “‘The Legislature needs to increase the penalties, and I’ve tried. I’ll try again.’”
Gov. Cuomo signed the MRTA into law on March 31, 2021. On August 24, 2021, Gov. Hochul took office as governor following Gov. Cuomo’s resignation. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the Governor has had plenty of time to solve problems with the law’s implementation. Similarly, the Governor has had adequate time to push for any legislative fixes to the MRTA that she believes are needed. At this stage, Gov. Hochul is unjustified in hinting that Gov. Cuomo or the Legislature are to blame for the problem. Rather, she must shoulder the responsibility herself.
More importantly, Gov. Hochul’s proposed solutions to the woes created by the MRTA seem half-hearted and inadequate. Could it be that a more far-reaching approach is needed? Should New York consider repealing the MRTA altogether?