By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Business First on Jan 26, 2021, 6:00am EST.

Could this be the year? Here’s how New York state’s cannabis legislation is shaping up

It’s been well documented how the New York state government can benefit if cannabis is fully legalized this year for adult recreational use.

If that happens, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget estimates the state would add $151 million to utilize through the 2023 tax year.

Local attorneys in the sector – Aleece Burgio, special counsel at Barclay Damon LLP, and Tristan Hujer, partner at Phillips Lytle LLP – are optimistic that this is the year the legislation will go through.

Burgio said the Buffalo area stands to be a massive hub for the industry since the region has ready-made advantages over other parts of the state including lower startup costs and abundant farmland.

“It’s an attractive area for potential businesses to be here,” she said. “We look good for retail stores, grow operations and co-ops. I suspect that we are going to be one of the big cities where you see a lot of local businesses getting involved.”

It’s also likely that businesses with operations in multiple states will look to make Buffalo the center of their New York growth.

“Buffalo’s going to look very attractive for that,” she said. “When you get multi-state operators, you will see more employees being brought on. All around, Buffalo is very well positioned to take heavy advantage of this new legislation.”

If legalization is passed as part of the budget, Hujer said, regulatory management will be under the purview of the state Department of Health or a newly created governing board. Licensing will be rigorously controlled.

Businesses eager to enter the market are waiting to hear about licensing.

“They want to know what kind of quality controls they will have to have in their processes,” Hujer said. “For farmers, I think a lot of them have an idea of what to expect. But processors and manufacturers are looking for guidance in terms of what they will need in their facilities, what kind of oversight there will be and how much it is going to cost.”

Working in the state’s favor has been the time to analyze legalization in other parts of the country.

“I think it’s fair to say that New York has been watching what is happening in other states,” he said. “They are learning what works and learning from the mistakes that were made in other locations so those are not repeated here.”

Burgio, co-chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Cannabis Committee, said the push for legalization has taken into account past sticking points.

“Cuomo’s plan is putting a preference on both women and minority applicants, which is a positive thing to include both gender and race,” Burgio said.

As a part of that, she anticipates women- and minority-owned businesses could have priority in the licensing application process, as well as reduced or deferred licensing fees and low- or no-interest loans.

“In order for this bill to get passed, there needs to be a compromise,” Burgio said. “I think there still needs to be a little more vetting on the social equity provision, but Cuomo is making the right steps in terms of adjusting this bill.”