ALBANY — The Cuomo administration is planning a "controlled rollout" of New York's marijuana marketplace to shield communities from having "a cannabis vendor on every corner," according to an official involved in the planning.

Axel Bernabe, assistant counsel to the governor, said the state is seeking to get feedback from communities that have been the most affected by criminal enforcement of what had been the state's prohibition on marijuana.

In a Zoom meeting with county leaders from across New York, Bernabe acknowledged the state will face challenges as it transitions from the prohibition era to one where marijuana use is viewed as a public health matter, with a five-member Cannabis Control Board that will set the vision for a licensing framework overseeing distributors and retail outlets.

Day-to-day oversight would be provided by the Office of Cannabis Management. It would help to develop what Bernabe called a social and economic equity plan. Its headquarters would be in Albany, with satellite offices in Buffalo and New York City. That agency would also interact with a 13-member Cannabis Advisory Board.

"The tax revenue is earmarked to be reinvested in the communities and the counties and in the localities that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of drugs," Bernabe said. "Those communities are going to be receiving 40% of the money coming in" by way of the taxes on marijuana products.

The Cannabis Advisory Board will make recommendations on the grants that will be awarded to communities and organizations within them.

Allowing the regulated sale of marijuana in New York is expected to yield $350 million annually in revenue. Of that, 40% is to be dedicated to education while another 40% would be funneled into the community grants reinvestment fund assisting communities most affected by prohibition, he said.

The other 20% would flow to drug treatment and a statewide public education campaign.

At the point of sale, a 9% excise tax would be imposed by the state, along with a 4% sales tax that would go to local governments, of which 1% would go to the county.

New York will also have what Bernabe called a "unique tax" at the distribution end. It would be based on the potency of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

The goal, he said, is to "hopefully disincentivize high THC products and incentivize lower THC products," he said.

Bernabe said the state is preparing to have to deal with a segment of marijuana consumers who "have a hard time regulating their consumption." That group is estimated to be about 10% of all users.

"Those are the folks we want to get to and help," he said. "Rather than incarcerate them, we want to get them back on track with jobs and to have community support."

The legislation envisions grants going to community-based nonprofit organizations as well as to "approved local government entities." The latter category, Bernabe said, could include county social services departments as well as county health departments.

While it is expected the state managers of the cannabis program will keep town, village and city governments abreast of license applications, Stephen Acquario, the director of the New York State Association of Counties, said it would be appropriate to ensure that counties are also in the loop on such matters.

"In fact, the county should be approached as well and notified," said Acquario. Counties now provide many of the public services that could be affected by marijuana legalization, including mental health counseling, social services and sheriff's departments.

Acquario said it would be prudent for county officials to review their personnel policies as they pertain to substance use. He said counties are also expected to play a role in designing "reasonable" rules regulating home cultivation of marijuana.

The new state law will allow individuals at least 21 years of age to have up to three immature plants and three mature ones. The law also allows the possession of three ounces of marijuana and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com.

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