Medical marijuana players state their case

In the debate over New York’s plans for legalizing recreational cannabis, advocates and opponents have found at least one area of common ground: They see a threat from the owners of the state’s 10 medical-marijuana providers.

The companies include large, national players such as iAnthus Capital, which owns Citiva Medical, and Acreage Holdings, which operates The Botanist brand of medical dispensaries. Due to federal restrictions, both Manhattan firms are traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

The argument against the companies is twofold: They will stifle competition from smaller players, and their business models will encourage and even require them to recruit new customers and promote heavy marijuana use.

The firms’ leaders maintain, however, that under the limitations of the pending legislation, they will have too small a piece of the pie to shut anyone out and, more important, their success in the medical realm makes them the best stewards of a recreational industry. After all, they say, they have been meeting the stringent requirements of New York’s medical program for several years, and their products are safer than anything sold on the black market. Plus, if policymakers don’t want cannabis marketed like beer or soda, they just need to say so.

“That’s the role of policymakers,” said George Allen, president of Acreage Holdings. “What you want on the other side of the ledger is people who will be held accountable and have reputations and capital at risk.”

Allen added that companies with expertise and resources can make the most headway in areas of concern such as teen use and traffic safety—in particular, how to detect marijuana-impaired drivers. “That is probably one of the big technological challenges that the industry has,” he said. “We are keenly focused on places we can advance that.”

But he does acknowledge that there are unknowns, such as the effect cannabis has on developing brains, and he favors more research and strict enforcement of age restrictions.

He does not see prohibition as the answer, however. “There is no better protection for youth than driving the market into places that can be held accountable,” he said. “If you think what’s keeping a teenager from getting cannabis is the fact that it’s illegal, you have to meet”

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