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Time for N.Y. to regulate hemp: Cuomo should sign the CBD law


As you approach Albany, the Empire State Plaza rises up like the Emerald City. Many hopeful hemp and cannabis advocates visited there during 2019. While New York hasn't yet embraced a comprehensive vision for what we call the three Cs — medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis and hemp cannabis — Gov. Cuomo now has a historic opportunity to regulate one of the key products derived from the cannabis plant, cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound used as a wellness product; it can already be found in pharmacies and other stores around New York.

In recent years, the use of CBD has grown dramatically with a proliferation of products containing hemp extracts. Yet like in other states, products have been rushed into the market with little oversight, raising health and safety concerns. Today, when you buy a product labeled “CBD,” you don't always know what's in the bottle. You should and Albany can help.

The Hemp Extract Bill that has passed the state Senate and Assembly and awaits Cuomo’s signature would create a safe harbor for consumers, farmers, processors and retailers to participate in the industry. Without such a law, the uncertain regulatory environment would stifle opportunity and innovation in the rapidly developing CBD market — estimated at surpassing $20 billion by 2024. This may not yet be the promised land of full marijuana legalization, but would mark a huge step forward.

Early in the year, Cuomo pushed for a broad framework to legalize adult use of marijuana. Under his plan, legislation would have created the Office of Cannabis Management to oversee the new industry. Cuomo took an executive approach to establishing institutional oversight, learning from the difficulties that other states encountered in loosely rolling out their programs. His legislation unfortunately did not get over the finish line. An alternate framework, called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, integrated aspects of the governor’s original approach with a previous bill proposed by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger; that didn’t happen either.

We shouldn’t let the failure to come to terms on marijuana as a whole sink CBD, a wellness product in high demand that’s already being sold across the state.

The Hemp Extract Bill provides a necessary next step in the development of the hemp industry. Through creating standards of production and transparency, the legislation meets the important goal of protecting consumers while creating a pathway for bringing products to market. Transparency in the supply chain serves multiple interests — farmers, consumers and government. The legislation contributes to Cuomo’s hemp initiative started in 2015; it would make New York a national leader by encouraging innovation and safe practices across the industry.

Cuomo wisely saw an opportunity in hemp, stating in a 2017 news release that New York “can lead the way in this emerging industry.” The governor recognized the opportunity for “innovative ideas that could provide a major boost to our farms and communities, creating new jobs and laying the foundation for future economic growth.”

The Hemp Extract Bill does precisely what the governor envisioned while also paving the way toward a framework for marijuana legislation. He now only has to put pen to paper, turning his aspiration into action.

Rosner, Gandelman and Castetter are founders of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, an industry association that represents farmers, processors and other businesses in cannabis.