New York’s Top Cannabis Official is Out as the State’s Governor Announces Major Overhaul of the Beleaguered Adult-Use Marijuana Industry

New York’s Top Cannabis Official is Out as the State’s Governor Announces Major Overhaul of the Beleaguered Adult-Use Marijuana Industry

Following months of delays, licensing controversies, and numerous lawsuits, the head of the Office of Cannabis Management will step down in September.



As Frank Sinatra so often crooned when singing his signature song, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. New York. New York.” Well, for the soon-to-be former head of the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), it appears he will not be achieving that Empire State dream of making Gotham City one of the most successful recreational cannabis spots in America.


According to numerous local and national media outlets, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul last week announced a substantial overhaul of the OCM following the “disastrous” rollout of the state’s highly anticipated adult-use cannabis market. 


In a press release last Friday, the governor’s office stated that Hochul “directed an operational overhaul” of the agency, which “follows the release of a 30-day assessment conducted by a team of individuals under the leadership of the Commissioner of the Office of General Services Jeanette Moy, that identified significant structural limitations to the Office of Cannabis Management that have affected the agency’s ability to fulfill its mandate to efficiently establish New York State’s cannabis marketplace.”


The governor discussed the details of the changes during a press conference in Albany, where the New York Times reported that “Chris Alexander, the executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, was notably absent.” According to the Times, Alexander “will step down at the end of his three-year term in September.”


The governor ordered the assessment earlier this year, directing Moy to assemble a team to conduct a 30-day review of the OCM. Moy sent a letter to Hochul last week in which she stated it was “clear from speaking to operational staff that they are dedicated, mission-driven, and working very hard” and that in “order to alleviate pressures on staff, the task force took immediate action to recruit for vacant license processing positions to increase the size of the licensing team by 40%, and to explore technology like softphones to improve the hybrid work experience.”


Moy also said the task force laid out recommendations for enhancing customer service and expediting the opening of Adult-Use retail businesses in the state’s legal cannabis market sector.


“It was a priority of the task force to craft recommendations that would enable this agency to be more transparent, efficient, and responsive to all New Yorkers. In conjunction with your recently announced Enforcement Task Force to shut down illegal cannabis stores, the recommendations in this report will enable OCM to maintain and build upon our State’s commitment to social equity while maturing into a world-class regulatory agency for a thriving New York State cannabis market,” Moy said.


"It was a priority of the task force to craft recommendations that would enable this agency to be more transparent, efficient, and responsive to all New Yorkers. In conjunction with your recently announced Enforcement Task Force to shut down illegal cannabis stores, the recommendations in this report will enable OCM to maintain and build upon our State’s commitment to social equity while maturing into a world-class regulatory agency for a thriving New York State cannabis market."

- Jeanette Moy, Commissioner of the Office of General Services


Also included in Friday’s press release, the governor’s office said the evaluation made across-the-board suggestions to:


  • End the bottleneck of license applicants
  • Improve communications with applicants and licensees
  • Transform the OCM’s ability to expand safe, legal cannabis operations across the state

“Based on the assessment’s findings, Governor Hochul announced a series of immediate actions to reform the licensing processes and increase enforcement against illegal storefronts. The Governor also announced the establishment of a $5 million grant program to help CAURD licensees and previewed next week’s launch of the Cannabis Enforcement Task Force,” the announcement said.


The rollout of New York’s legal and regulated recreational marijuana market has been sluggish at best, leading to an explosion in the black market. According to the Times, only 122 legal adult-use cannabis dispensaries are operating in the state, while “the number of illicit shops in New York City alone has nearly doubled to 2,900.”


“At the end of April, more than 5,600 applications, mostly for retail and craft businesses that submitted them as far back as August 2022, were still waiting to be reviewed,” the Times reported.


"At the end of April, more than 5,600 applications, mostly for retail and craft businesses that submitted them as far back as August 2022, were still waiting to be reviewed."

- New York Times


By identifying the systemic problems crippling the OCM’s license approval process, Moy said her multi-agency task force has identified vital steps the agency can endeavor to clear the bottleneck of applications through improved communication and a streamlining of the application process.


“The proposals outlined in the task force’s report will improve transparency and open lines of communication in the application process while boosting the state’s efforts to meet Governor Hochul’s commitment to equity in New York’s cannabis market,” Moy said.


However, despite the upbeat vibes presented by Gov. Hochul and Moy, many believe Alexander is being scapegoated for the failings of the governor and the State House. As the Times concluded, the report “immediately drew backlash from critics who said it painted an incomplete portrait, (with some arguing) it omitted or glossed over the role of the governor, the Legislature and the many lawsuits against the agency in the challenges facing the cannabis program.”


"(The report) immediately drew backlash from critics who said it painted an incomplete portrait, (with some arguing) it omitted or glossed over the role of the governor, the Legislature and the many lawsuits against the agency in the challenges facing the cannabis program."

- New York Times


With Alexander out of the picture, Gov. Hochul will now have to find a replacement and continue to perform damage control with a pivotal Election Day rapidly approaching. If her office and Moy’s team do not achieve a clear and marked improvement in the opening of newly licensed retail dispensaries, many of her legislative allies may also be looking for employment come November.