New York marijuana: What to know about cannabis lobbying and political influence

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New Yorkers drive to Massachusetts to buy for cannabis. Which is much of the pro-marijuana lobbying money trail in New York leads to medical and recreational drug companies behind growing cannabis empires across the country story Highlights
Retain has paid $400,000 to lobbyists since 2013
Columbia Care, of Monroe County, also spent about $400,000 on lobbying since 2013, documents show
About $300,000 of Vireo Health’s lobbying went to getting a license and regulatory decisions
Captiva spent about $160,000 lobbying marijuana in New York between 2013 and 2018
New York’s recreational marijuana battle sits on the front line of a generational war over American cannabis laws. As dialogue heats up, USA TODAY Network New York is compiling answers to key questions about legalized cannabis.
Cannabis industry leaders have deployed waves of lobbyists amid New York’s marijuana legalization battle, spending millions of dollars since 2013.
Some newly reported lobbying contracts, costing up to $15,000 per month, got signed within days of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pro-recreational pot speech in January, suggesting a scramble to influence the legislation.
A marijuana leaf on prime of a $100 bill
While adult-use marijuana legalization once seemed inevitable, its prospects of easy passage quickly diminished under opposition across law enforcement, health care and education groups.
Similarly, New Jersey’s recreational marijuana push stalled recently when a vote got pulled suddenly upon realizing it lacked enough support from legislators.
Much of the pro-marijuana lobbying money trail in New York leads to medical and recreational drug companies behind growing cannabis empires across the country.
What follows is an analysis of key marijuana lobbying disclosures in 2019, which is part of the USA TODAY Network New York’s ongoing investigation of efforts to influence state drug laws.
Top spenders
In terms of lobbying, Retain, which has medical marijuana dispensaries in Yonkers and Kingston, has outspent many competitors since New York started seriously debating marijuana laws in 2013.
The company paid out about $400,000 to lobbyists seeking sway over New York’s medical marijuana licensing, taxes and regulations between 2013 and 2018, records show.
It’s owned by members of the Peck ham family and linked through real estate deals and other investments to Peck ham Industries, a politically active road construction business in White Plains.
Retain has partnered with companies selling cannabis products in California, but executives last fall said lobbying in New York has focused exclusively on medical marijuana.
Petain’s current New York lobbying contract for $7,500 per month lists a California post office box. It was set to expire on the state budget deadline of March 31, 2019, but an amended version of the deal was not available recently through New York’s public lobbying database.
Petain’s Chief Operating Officer Hillary Peck ham declined comment on the issue.
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Columbia Care, which has a Monroe County manufacturing facility at Eastman Business Park and medical marijuana dispensary at Building 28 at the site in Rochester, has also been a top spender on lobbying.
The company’s disclosures show about $400,000 spent on lobbying related to medical marijuana between 2013 and 2018. Its current lobbying contracts for $19,000 per month list recreational and medical marijuana legislation as topics.
Columbia’s CEO Nicholas Vita has said recreational marijuana must be properly regulated to maintain product quality standards and keep the drugs away from children.
Columbia Care has medical marijuana operations in 12 states overall, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, USA TODAY Network reported.
The Midwest connection
Another New York political player has been Vireo Health, which has medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown White Plains and Johnson City.
About $300,000 of Vireo’s lobbying went toward efforts to secure a medical marijuana business license and influence regulatory decisions between 2013 and 2018.
But the lobbying focus has broadened recently as the company and its affiliates, known as Vireo, began trading on the Canadian stock exchange on March 20.
Minnesota-based Vireo’s CEO Dr. Kyle Kinsley described plans to expand operations in New York and other states where cannabis-based drugs are allowed.
“We believe that science can drive the lion’s share of long-run chance within the cannabis business,” Kingsley said.
Dr. Kyle Kingsley is chief executive officer of Vireo, a medical marijuana conglomerate with businesses in New York.
The company’s expansion strategy included leveraging the cannabis-related technology it created, such as a variety of manufacturing and digital business platforms related to marijuana.
In February, Vireo signed new lobbying contracts in New York totaling about $12,500 per month. The topics involved are listed as medical marijuana and a state bill related to marijuana.
Meanwhile, Vireo’s multi-state medical marijuana business has been connected to a high-profile court battle in North Star State.
Two former Vireo Health executives have been accused of smuggling medical marijuana from Minnesota into New York.
The case presently sits in one in all Minnesota’s highest state courts, wherever arguments specialize in whether or not state laws sufficiently address importation medical marijuana across state borders.