Governor Kathy Hochul’s decision to head the new cannabis control board is a half-baked idea – because the commissioner has no experience dealing with the marijuana industry, said a legal cannabis expert.
Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) described Hochul’s appointment of former MP Tremaine Wright as “mystifying” during a hastily put together confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee last week.
Savino, who helped draft the New York Medical Marijuana Act years ago, said Wright was an “accomplished attorney” with experience advocating for “social justice.”
But then Savino put it bluntly.
“I’m a little confused as to why the governor decided to put someone on the cannabis board who had no experience with cannabis,” she said while questioning Wright for confirmation at an otherwise friendly hearing.
“You are experienced in many things,” added Savino, “but I’m afraid you have no direct experience with cannabis itself.”
Former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature legalized recreational marijuana use and sales in March – and now Wright is faced with the daunting task of building a legal cannabis industry from scratch, from seeds to sales, including regulation.
Wright, a former Brooklyn MP and Democrat who most recently served as an executive with the State Department of Financial Services, said her small business experience included running a neighborhood cafe and serving on the local Brooklyn Community Board.
Despite her concerns, Savino said she ultimately supported Wright’s nomination and pledged to work with her.
Tremaine Wright, a member of the New York State Assembly, allegedly has no experience in dealing with the marijuana industry.Scott Heins / Getty Images
She urged Wright, the new Executive Director of the Office of Cabinet Management, Chris Alexander, and other employees to visit states where legalized marijuana programs had bumpy beginnings – including California, Oregon, Illinois and Massachusetts.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our state,” Wright said during her confirmation hearing. “We have the opportunity to build an industry from scratch…. This is our chance to get it right. “
She also has strong political ties, having served as chair of the Black, Hispanic, and Asian caucus of the legislature.
Wright gave up her seat in the convention last year to be elected to the state Senate.
State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), the chair of the finance committee, insisted that Wright was qualified for the job despite Savino’s criticism.
Recreational use and sales of marijuana were legalized in March.Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images
“I know Tremaine Wright is smart and committed to the missions of diversity, criminal justice reform and small business development, all of which are vital to OCM [Office of Cannabis Management]”Said Kruger.
“Yeah, I think she’s qualified for the job. I am confident that senior executives and experts on the Advisory Board can bring you up to date on cannabis-specific issues. “
Wright did not comment on Savino’s criticism when asked by The Post.
Hochul’s press secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays said the governor was “confident” [Wright] will do an excellent job ”, noting her“ rich knowledge and experience in the areas of public policy, criminal justice and economic growth ”.
“We are grateful to Senator Savino for her longstanding advocacy on these issues and look forward to working with her and our new leadership to grow our state’s cannabis industry and make real change for New Yorkers,” Crampton-Hays said in a statement .
de. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) called the appointment of Governor Kathy Hochul “mystifying”.AP Photo / Mary Altaffer
The newly installed governor’s other key pot officer – Christopher Alexander as executive director of the new cannabis management bureau – fared much better at his confirmation hearing.
Senators said Alexander, who recently worked for black-owned cannabis company The Village and formerly headed the Drug Policy Alliance, was eminently qualified. He also served as legal advisor to the Senate Democrats.
“I’ve been working on it for a long time,” Alexander said at the hearing, referring to legalizing recreational marijuana and clearing criminal records for cannabis possession.
Alexander signed a five-page statement withdrawing from any decision affecting The Village, which is likely to apply for a cannabis business license in New York.
Senator Diane Savino said she ultimately supported the nomination of ex-Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright and vowed to work with her. Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Hochul pushed through the cannabis appointments during a special legislative session just a week after his appointment as governor.
Appointment decisions had stalled for months following disputes between Cuomo, who had resigned in disgrace in a sexual harassment scandal, and Senate Democratic lawmakers. Cuomo was upset that the Senate had blocked his proposed changes in MTA leadership – an unrelated issue.
Both officers said they had been informed of their selection by Hochul the day before their nomination.
Their salaries have yet to be set by the governor and the legislature.