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Speaker Carl Heastie says a special session to alter cannabis laws is unlikely

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, right, looks at plans to build a regional aquatic center in Rotterdam. Others pictured, from left, are Kara Haraden, president of Capital Region Aquatics Center; Schenectady County Legislator Richard Ruzzo and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York State Public Radio
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, right, looks at plans to build a regional aquatic center in Rotterdam. Others pictured, from left, are Kara Haraden, president of Capital Region Aquatics Center; Schenectady County Legislator Richard Ruzzo and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Tuesday that he does not anticipate holding a special session to revive New York’s fledgling legal cannabis industry, which is now stalled by a court injunction.

A judge temporarily halted the opening of any new cannabis retail stores and the granting of new licenses after four veterans with disabilities sued, saying that under the provisions of the original 2021 law legalizing the use of adult recreational marijuana, they should be among the groups given priority status to obtain the licenses.

Under regulations set out by the state Office of Cannabis Management, the first batch of applicants must have been convicted of a cannabis-related offense and have also operated a business successfully for at least two years.

The industry group Cannabis Association of New York said the injunction threatens thousands of jobs, businesses, and the entire fledgling cannabis industry. They are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to convene a special session of the Legislature to codify the regulations into statute so that they are less vulnerable to legal challenges.

But Heastie said now is not the time to change the rules.

“I think it's always difficult when there's a pending court case to ask the Legislature to fix something,” Heastie said. “When you don't know what the resulting decision won't be by the courts.”

Heastie, speaking at an unrelated event in Rotterdam outside Schenectady, said he strongly backs the decision to give people affected by the years-long prohibition of marijuana priority to apply for retail licenses.

“The whole essence behind the way that this legislation was written was really to try to help those communities that were over-policed, over-incarcerated,” he said. “It wasn’t trying to exclude other people. It was really trying to right some of the wrongs that had happened over the years, when communities were really devastated by the incarceration around cannabis.”

Jason Gough, a Hochul spokesman, did not address the request for a special session. He said in a statement that New York “is establishing the most equitable adult-use cannabis market in the nation,” and that “Governor Hochul will continue her efforts to expand and improve New York's cannabis market.”

The restraining order is in place until Aug. 25, when lawyers for the veterans and for New York state will appear back in state Supreme Court in Kingston.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.