Gov. Kathy Hochul has overhauled leadership at the state’s Office of Cannabis Management in an effort to speed up the licensing process, improve communication with applicants and licensees, and reaffirm the state’s commitment to social equity goals outlined in the program when approved by voters.

Hochul’s leadership changes come after a mountain of litigation and other issues have delayed the rollout of the state’s legal marijuana program since voters approved the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) in March of 2021, as the illegal market has thrived. The changes also follow an independent audit of OCM that found inefficiencies, inexperience and mismanagement at the agency.

The audit pointed out the agency had inexperienced leadership and lacked a central system of reviewing and issuing licenses, with at least five different reviewers evaluating each license independently. The audit also found the agency issued conflicting communication about licensing rules, and was unresponsive to licensees and applicants.

Hochul’s changes include appointing a state government veteran as acting director, launching a nationwide search for a permanent director and installing two others in key leadership positions.

“I’m committed to ensuring New York’s nation-leading cannabis market continues to thrive,” she said, in a statement on the changes. “With these new appointees, the Office of Cannabis Management will continue to focus on expanding the most equitable adult-use market in the nation while cracking down on illicit storefronts.”

New OCM Leadership Includes Three State Government Veterans

The new acting director is Felicia A. B. Reid, who has worked in state government for more than a decade, including the past six years overseeing statewide juvenile justice operations as deputy commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services. She will oversee major operational and regulatory functions of the office including licensing, compliance and enforcement.

“Cannabis is an enormous opportunity for our state, and OCM is obligated to ensure that its work makes those opportunities accessible, transparent, and responsive to the industry’s movement and trends,” she said.

Susan Filburn has been appointed chief administrative officer, a new position focused on stabilizing and formalizing administrative functions of the agency to support licensing, compliance and enforcement operations. She has more than 20 years of experience in state government, including the past four years as deputy commissioner of Employment Security. In her new role, she will also work closely with the licensing and technology teams to implement process improvements to streamline the license review process and improve responsiveness.

Hochul’s third appointment is the promotion of Jessica Woolford from director of communications to director of external affairs. In this role, she will ensure communication and community engagement are prioritized, including building out the agency’s first customer service team to provide transparency to applicants, licensees and consumers about the agency’s processes and the marketplace.

Hochul previously announced the inaugural leader of the agency, Chris Alexander, will not return when his tenure ends in September. He announced his immediate resignation shortly thereafter.

Hochul is launching a nationwide search for a permanent executive director of OCM and will work with an experienced recruitment firm to identify qualified candidates.

Harris Beach’s Cannabis lawyers will continue monitoring this development and other related issues. If you have a matter to take up with the Office of Cannabis Management or have questions for our Cannabis Industry Team please reach out to attorney Meaghan T. Feenan at (518) 701-2742 and mfeenan@harrisbeach.com; attorney Heidi Schult Gregory at (585) 419-8720 and hgregory@harrisbeach.com; attorney Francis L. Gorman, III at (585) 419-8628 and flgorman@harrisbeach.com; or the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and White Plains, as well as Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.