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Ouster of OCM Chief in New York Raises Questions

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state entity charged with overseeing the implementation of the recreational marijuana industry in New York State, has been asked to leave office when his tenure draws to an end this September. This ouster has raised more questions than it answers.

For starters, many watchers of the roll-out of recreational marijuana sales in the state indicate that many departments had roles to play in the implementation of the adult-use cannabis program. However, none of those departments was mentioned in the report, which was released after the state governor launched a review of the recreational marijuana program.

Osbert Orduna, who owns a licensed adult-use cannabis store in Queens, says the “conspicuous absence” of those other departments makes one think that the ED was made to take the fall. For example, the state was flooded with illegal operators, and the state seemed unable to deal with them. Not a single law enforcement agency or officer was mentioned in the review report intended to identify why the adult-use program has been a “disaster,” as Governor Kathy Hochul described it. Is it possible that the proliferation of unlicensed operators denied even the few licensed businesses an opportunity to serve as many customers as they would have served?

The review report also points out that there were 65 unfilled positions within the Office of Cannabis Management. The question on many people’s minds is, was Chris Alexander solely responsible for hiring all those people and he didn’t? It is possible that other offices and departments may have had roles to play in hiring those workers and assigning them to the OCM. However, the report digging into the failure to roll out the program as expected makes no mention of why exactly or who slept on the job and left 65 positions vacant.

How could $26 million remain unspent at the OCM at a time when the office had plenty of work to do to ensure that the highly anticipated launch and roll out of recreational marijuana sales stays on track? The way state governments work, it is unlikely that the head of the OCM was solely responsible for using that money to run the activities it was intended for. It should be noted that it isn’t clear what exactly that money was intended for. Possible uses can include staff salaries, costs of inspections and enforcement activities, among others.

There is a need to reflect on what exactly went wrong, as well as where who was responsible. If this isn’t done, the departure of the OCM head is unlikely to trigger the needed changes to bring the program back on track.

Marijuana companies in the country such as SNDL Inc. (NASDAQ: SNDL) and those from without will be watching to see how quickly the program in New York State can get back on course and serve the residents who wish to consume adult-use cannabis products.

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