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I-Team: Cannabis enforcement rules, abilities at state and local level

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The Haven Coalition is still operating one week after police in the village released a laundry list of alleged problems the business is causing in North Syracuse.

Police describe the joint as an “illicit cannabis dispensary,” with the owner firmly disputing the claim.

“The Haven Coalition is a private social club,” Cody Gillum told CNY Central, “we’re a place where people get to be educated and learn more about what cannabis actually does.”

Gillum said that they provide a safe space for vendors and people interested in cannabis to learn about what products might best suit them. He said that during that process, a small amount of cannabis is exchanged when people become paying members, given away for free.

North Syracuse Village Police said they were cracking down on the business, located on the 600 block of South Main Street near Sweetheart Corner. North Syracuse Police claim a joint detail with State Troopers resulted in 94 vehicle stops, 54 traffic tickets, 11 searches, a felony arrest, a warrant arrest and three misdemeanor arrests. They worry about people driving while ability impaired by drugs and seized seven pounds of pot and a half-kilo of a possible narcotic that’s still being tested.

Licenses to provide a space for on-site commercial consumption don’t exist yet. The period for application ended in October of 2023, and NYS has not yet issued any; it’s why Ryan McCall, a cannabis law expert in New York with the Tully Rinckey Law Firm, said that The Haven Coalition is likely operating illegally.

“This isn’t a private residence and you’re allowing the commercial consumption of cannabis,” McCall said, “at that point, they do have enough to come in and say ‘This needs to be put to an end.'”

The NYS Office of Cannabis Management has not directly responded to CNY Central about this issue, with a spokesperson stating that they do not confirm or deny ongoing investigations. Still, one week later, it’s clear the OCM has not moved to shut the business down.

During the State of the State, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that the OCM will be strengthened this year, expanding its ability to crack down on unlicensed cannabis businesses. Gov. Hochul’s office shared that OCM inspectors seized over 11,800 pounds of illicit cannabis worth more than $57 million after they were dispatched to 381 locations in 2023.

Assembly member Al Stirpe, representing North Syracuse in Albany, said OCM is likely operating without enough staff to properly address violations.

He’s hopeful that the “Smokeout Act” will pass within the next few months, which is designed to give local law enforcement the ability to shut down unlicensed cannabis shops.

All of this comes after dysfunction was on display at an “emergency” Dec. 29 meeting of the OCM board. The meeting – set up in part to grant a cannabis laboratory permit for Falkor Laboratories LLC and Aardwolf Labs NY LLC, both located in East Syracuse – began with tense, raised voices.

Board member Jennifer Jenkins demanded to know why she was required to attend on short notice, indicating she joined the online call from a family vacation. Board member Adam Perry, alone in a boardroom in Buffalo, insisted on moving past preliminary discussions about bylaws to “get on with” the meeting that he said started 20 minutes late, visibly frustrated.

During those opening discussions, Board Chair Tremaine Wright said that despite circling bylaw proposals over a year ago, no one had properly looked at the documents for approval. It seemed to suggest that the OCM did not have standing bylaws over two years after the agency was created.

Executive Director Chris Alexander and Jenkins argued over the validity of the meeting, with Alexander claiming that the meeting was urgently necessary to help move “biomass” that was on the back burner. He said they needed to add more dispensaries to assist in the supply chain.

“The optics of this, to me, is that we are going outside of our way to help a small group of people and not others. I find that very problematic,” Jenkins said.

The motion to approve Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Citiva Medical, LLC as registered dispensaries failed after multiple board members abstained. The board did, however, approve the laboratory permit for the East Syracuse locations.

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