New York’s Compassionate Care Act and The Road Ahead

I attended the National Cannabis Industry Association luncheon in New York City last week on the state of New York State’s recently enacted Compassionate Care Act. The highlights of this altogether excellent event were speeches by New York State Assemblyman Steve Katz and New York State Senator Diane Savino. Both speeches were thoughtful and both provided insight into the future of the Compassionate Care Act.

Assemblyman Katz detailed the shortcomings of the law’s five license limit and expressed his concerns about the process for awarding this limited number of licenses. The current version of the Compassionate Care Act allows for five cannabis licenses to be granted for the entire state of New York. Each license will be for a completely vertically integrated seed through sale model that allows for a grow and manufacturing facility and four associated dispensaries. Assemblyman Katz talked of how a total of twenty dispensaries for a state as large and populous as New York will be woefully inadequate and will not come close to satisfying market demands.

Assemblyman Katz also expressed concerns about the process for awarding these five licenses, essentially saying that if the there are more than five legitimately qualified applicants seeking a license (and there no doubt will be), any selection process other than a pure and unweighted lottery will be unavoidably corrupt.

We agree with Assemblyman Katz on both counts. Five licenses and twenty dispensaries is not going to be nearly enough to serve New York patients and the only fair and legitimate system for awarding licenses will be through a pure lottery. The problem with lotteries, however, is that they are certain to cut out many experienced, sophisticated and well-funded applicants. In other words, the exact sort of applicants that will help cannabis in New York succeed.

Senator Savino’s speech was more optimistic. Though Senator Savino agreed that the Compassionate Care Act was less than what supporters of the bill had sought, she saw it as a foot in the door and she believes that there will be a number of substantial amendments to the Act during the next eighteen months before its enactment.

We too view enactment of the Compassionate Care Act, in any form, as a positive, but we also think it needs to see considerable expansion. Moving forward, the conversation will be about what the Compassionate Care Act should look like, not whether it should be enacted at all. That in itself is a victory.

Changes are going to need to be made to the Compassionate Care Act in order for New York to create and maintain a medical marijuana system, and the sooner the legislature accepts that, the better.