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Dozens of New Yorkers pilloried the state agency’s handling of weed’s rollout but the Office of Cannabis Management posted video of the meeting without their remarks, claiming that was a way “not to amplify the threats of self harm.”
“We’ve lost millions of dollars. We’ve done everything right and I can’t feed my children,” Tess Interlicchia, a cannabis farmer, told the Cannabis Control Board at its contentious meeting in Albany on Sept 12. “I sold my tractors to the farm in January. It’s now September. I have nothing left to sell.”
But Interlicchia’s comments — and the 39 others made at the same meeting — are not online. The entire public comment period was removed from the video when it was posted on YouTube by the Office of Cannabis Management on Monday.
OCM’s Cannabis Control Board approved regulations last Tuesday that will open applications to the wider public on October 4, including for more growers, retailers and medical marijuana companies. But with the state rollout mired in problems, forty people signed up to share public comments that were often critical of the state’s efforts so far.
Two years after the Office of Cannabis Management was formed, only 23 stores are open. New stores are currently blocked from opening by a court injunction, farmers are sitting on hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed rotting in store rooms, and many are wary of corporate medical marijuana companies that are more capitalized and poised to enter the market under more favorable terms, as THE CITY previously reported.
But hours of public comments largely critical of these missteps and more are missing from the video posted online by the state agency.
“They should have posted all of the meeting including the public comment portion,” Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the Committee on Open Government, told THE CITY, in order to be compliant with the state’s open meeting law.
Under the open meetings law, state agencies must stream public meetings and then post them online in a reasonable timeframe. The committee is responsible for oversight of that law.
‘This Topic Does Not Deserve To Be Silenced’
When Jeff Jones, another licensed cultivator, noticed that the public comments section was missing, he reached out to Aaron Ghitelman, the spokesperson for the Office of Cannabis Management on Monday afternoon.
“Howdy Aaron, What’s with the scrubbing of public comments from the OCM’s post of last week’s CCB meeting?” wrote Jones, who is on the policy committee for the Cannabis Farmers Alliance.
Ghitelman replied, “Trying not to amplify the threats of self harm/ violence that occurred during the meeting.”
Jones told THE CITY that “this is part of many farmers’ reality, as it is for many farmers around the world.”
During her comments, Interlicchia said she’d had to do a wellness check on a farmer who was struggling. Another cannabis farmer, Jeannette Miller, told the board “I wore a noose around my neck today because I feel like I’m gonna hang myself.”
Word spread of the missing comments in social media posts and texts on Monday. The explanation that Ghitelman gave did not sit well with Nicole Ricci, the President of NY Small Farma Ltd which advocates for a socially just and inclusive cannabis community. Ricci also spoke during the public comment period on September 12.
Ricci emailed Chris Alexander, the executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, Monday afternoon with her concerns.
“These people do not deserve to be shamed and this topic does not deserve to be silenced,” Ricci wrote in an email reviewed by THE CITY.
“Silencing your licensees struggling with such an overwhelming and emotional state of mind is really unconscionable. I am asking you to release the comments immediately.”
After THE CITY contacted the agency about the video and shared the comments of the Committee on Open Government, Ghitelman said in a statement that “The Office of Cannabis Management is in the process of editing the video of the recent Cannabis Control Board meeting to remove a short section during which an individual made a threat of self-harm and violence.”
Ghitelman continued: “The full video, absent these comments, will be posted once the editing process is complete.”