Jerry Kremer

New York is going to pot, very slowly


New York state is a big and complex entity. It provides services that meet the needs of millions of people, and at the same time, it creates law after law that is supposed to meet those needs. Sometimes the state trips over its own regulatory feet and falls flat on its face.
When it comes to the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, you can toss a coin as to whether it is a hiccup or a major bureaucratic headache. The MRTA law turned 2 years old last week. When you create a massive statewide undertaking, there are always fits and starts. But sooner or later, the whole process gets on track and almost everyone is happy.
There is no doubt that the legislators who sponsored the original MRTA law had the best of intentions, and were hopeful that the law would be in place and slowly but surely be producing revenue for the state and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Regrettably, the state has gotten zero dollars from the program, and you can count the number of new jobs with your fingers.
I’m not pointing one of mine in blame at any officials in particular, because they have a tough and thankless job. But the visions of success have been premature. At present, there are hundreds of licensed growers around the state who will very soon have a product that is available, but no one to sell it to. There are only a handful of legal dispensaries, and they can’t handle the amount of cannabis that is being grown. So what should a pot grower do with tons of mature plants? Farmers must have a place to sell their products, but New York’s cannabis growers don’t.
While the state has been in the process of getting the system functioning, one group has done very well. If you take a drive around New York City or many other parts of the state, you’ll see an enormous number of mini-stores that call themselves “smoke shops.” You can be sure that they aren’t surviving on the proceeds from the sales of $12 packs of Marlboros. They do sell nicotine products, but their money comes from the sale of marijuana.

These days there is so much pot on the streets of our state that you can smell it on many street corners. I recently took our granddaughter to the American Museum of Natural History and smelled pot near the dinosaur exhibit. Gov. Kathy Hochul has introduced a bill that would shut down all of the smoke shops and impose massive fines on those that fail to comply.
When I was a member of the Assembly, we had an old adage: Where there’s a new law, there’s a lawsuit to follow. So far, the state has been sued twice by companies and individuals claiming that the licensing process for selling pot has either been “unfair” or “arbitrary.” Because my law firm represents some prospective licensees, I won’t comment on the merits of those claims.
But suffice it to say that not everyone is in love with MRTA. Friends complain to me frequently about the legalization of pot, but I explain to them that it is now legal in more than 20 states, both red and blue. In its first year of legalization, the state of Colorado collected over $250 million in revenue, and now that revenue is closer to $1 billion annually. What state wouldn’t want to cash in on the pot business?
Sooner or later, the New York Legislature will help implement the MRTA more effectively, and the state might even see a few dollars that are now going to the smoke shops.
And if you think the pot law got off to a slow start, watch how the casino licensing process goes forward. No doubt that new headache will be like turning an aircraft carrier around, not once but multiple times.

Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?