New York State’s recently passed 2024 budget includes many cannabis-related provisions, addressing enforcement, licensure, and penalties, with the goal of curbing the state’s illicit marijuana market. Specifically, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation granting the state Office of Cannabis Management (“OCM”) certain enforcement powers.
Enforcement tools at OCM
Several of the new enforcement tools at OCM’s enforcement disposal include:
- Issuing civil fines for unlicensed sellers.
- OCM and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance (“DOF”) new powers to conduct surprise inspections, seize illegal products, and obtain court injunctions against unlicensed sellers.
- New power for the DOF to fine cannabis dealers who aren’t paying the proper state taxes.
- A new tax fraud crime.
- A provision that reestablishes selling cannabis without a license as a criminal offense.
Class A misdemeanor to sell cannabis and cannabis products without a license
This legislation also makes it a crime to sell cannabis and cannabis products without a license. It is now a Class A misdemeanor to knowingly and unlawfully sell, give, or cause to be sold any cannabis products without the required license. OCM will have the power to compel a landlord to begin eviction proceedings and separately the power to bring a civil proceeding to permanently enjoin unlicensed activity at a business location.
As it relates to the new tax enforcement, the DOF now is able to conduct regulatory inspections of businesses selling cannabis to determine if appropriate taxes have been paid, and will be able to levy civil penalties in cases where appropriate taxes have not been paid. Presumably, the illicit shops are not paying the requisite cannabis taxes the State has issued. The legislation also establishes a new tax fraud crime for businesses that willfully fail to collect or remit required cannabis taxes, or knowingly possess for sale any cannabis on which tax was required to be paid but was not.
To close the prior loophole, the Budget also definitively states that a license application may be refused to anyone who has possessed or knowingly distributed illicit cannabis. Presumably, this only refers to those unlicensed shops, because such a refusal would negate the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program.
The power to levy Civil Penalties/Fines by the OCM to illicit cannabis shops can be up to $10,000 per day for anyone who cultivates for sale or sells cannabis without having appropriate registration, with an additional civil penalty of up to five (5) times the revenue from the prohibited activities possible as well. Additionally, if the shop ignores the demand to cease illicit activities, the civil penalty may be increased up to $20,000 per day.
Penalties for improper possession and distribution
Otherwise, existing penalties for improper possession and distribution were increased across the board, including:
- Up to $25,000 for a first offense and up to $50,000 for subsequent offenses for possession of certain threshold amounts of illicit cannabis (i.e., 5-12 lbs. of illicit cannabis, or 1-4 lbs. of illicit concentrates or edibles), and
- Up to $75,000 for a first offense and up to $100,000 for subsequent offenses for possession of certain threshold amounts of illicit cannabis (i.e., >12 lbs. of illicit cannabis, or 4+ lbs. of illicit concentrates or edibles),
- Up to $50,000 in additional penalties for a first offense and up to $100,000 for subsequent offences for “possessing for sale” certain threshold amounts of illicit cannabis (i.e., >5 lbs. of illicit cannabis, or >1 lb. of illicit concentrates or edibles) in a commercial location, and
- Up to $50,000 for a first offense and up to $100,000 for subsequent offenses for a distributor who knowingly sells to an unregistered seller.