New York Hires Former Rhode Island Cannabis ‘Czar’

New York Gov. Cuomo has hired Norman Birenbaum — who previously served as the top cannabis regulator in Rhode Island — to help oversee New York’s transition to legal cannabis, which lawmakers say is a priority for next year.

Full story after the jump.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has hired Norman Birenbaum to run the state’s cannabis office and help craft policies for legalization, which a senior advisor to Cuomo called a “priority for next year,” the Buffalo News reports. Birenbaum, 32, previously served as the top cannabis regulator in Rhode Island until leaving the post for the unspecified New York job in November.

Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to the governor, told the Buffalo News that Birenbaum will oversee all things cannabis-related – including hemp and CBD. Cuomo signed a bill into law last week to regulate both the industrial hemp and CBD industries. Birenbaum oversaw both of those industries along with medical cannabis in Rhode Island.

State Sen. Liz Krueger (D), the sponsor of the state Senate’s legalization bill, said the addition of Birenbaum, who will work out of Cuomo’s office, “is a clear signal the Legislature will have a partner” on the cannabis legalization issue in the upcoming session.

Cuomo had included cannabis legalization in his 2021 budget, unveiled in January, but it was pulled in March after legislative leaders expressed concern about the reforms being passed in a budget bill rather than through the legislative process.

Lawmakers, however, would close the 2019 session without a legalization deal – blocked by downstate Democrats – though they did pass a bill to expand decriminalization protections to cover up to 25 grams and expunge low-level cannabis convictions.

After the end of the session, Cuomo met with governors from neighboring states about potential regional policies for cannabis legalization. The hiring of Birenbaum is a sign that Cuomo is finalizing his legalization plans ahead of the upcoming session.

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