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May 20th, 2021

We have recently learned of the intent to nominate New York’s current Director of Cannabis Programs, Norman Birenbaum to Executive Director of the incoming Office of Cannabis Management under our new Cannabis Law. I write with grave concerns that the legislative intent behind the legal passage of cannabis in New York will be abolished if this candidate is formally nominated and appointed into leadership roles of the incoming program, particularly the role of Executive Director.

As a potential nominee for this inaugural position, Mr. Birenbaum’s regulatory history is plenteous with policymaking and regulations that are antithetical to the legislative intent of the “Marijuana Taxation & Regulation Act” (MRTA) passed into Law. Within his current position of New York’s Director of Cannabis Programs, Mr. Birenbaum has repeatedly encouraged culturally insensitive policies into the proposed framework of New York’s incoming program and deployed tactics in his previous regulatory role that resulted in documentable public distrust and harm towards the existing patient community of that state. Many of his regulatory policies are widely known within the industry to encourage predatory practices, monopolization, and further systemic racism. Our role in New York demands attunement towards the diversity of New York State & our ambitious goals for social equity.

Examining Mr. Birenbaum’s tenure in Rhode Island revealed his history of aggressive tax tactics, including the use of law enforcement to carry out regulatory compliance, many of which are described as openly hostile to their vulnerable patient community. This is truly worrisome as one of the revered foundations of justice within our law's intent is to break the pattern of re-criminalization of cannabis patients and consumers. It should also raise concern that he enacted additional policies in Rhode Island which resulted in patient privacy and legal issues, as well as protests and rallies against his leadership. This track record of harmful regulatory strategies in a state of considerably smaller size and population stands as a stark warning about the potential impact of his leadership in a state as large and diverse culturally, economically, and racially as New York - we are the Empire State.

The MRTA provides an improved framework to ensure success in the context of justice and social equity. The magnitude of this landmark endeavor requires a candidate with not only experience on both of these priorities but also an open mind towards exploring new strategies in partnership with criminal justice and social equity experts. It is important to note that in 2017, Mr. Birenbaum was not chosen for the Executive Director role by Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission for many of the misgivings mentioned (as well as having true integration in the already established cannabis community that another candidate already held). Research from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission public meeting minutes underscores the hesitancy in approving this candidate who did not have the humility necessary to successfully run an ambitious Cannabis Program. Based on multiple conversations and the candidate’s demonstrated lack of concern, it‘s clear that he has not historically been amenable to adopting social equity-focused provisions and even furthermore has been characterized as closed-minded towards ideas other than his own on this issue. This is all while holding zero credibility behind his lack of action behind implementing or supporting social equity parameters in the past.

Two years into his tenure, New York’s regulatory successes should be apparent to the wider community and indisputable to the industry, as seen in other state programs with policy changes within similar timeframes. He has no experience incorporating any policies that help communities of color or the legacy market transition into the legal framework. Instead, there is a demonstrated history of ignorance when it comes to the cannabis community and its already established marketplace. This becomes even more problematic because New York’s legacy market is debatably one of the largest in the nation, and insensitive regulation in other markets towards legacy transition have hindered the ability to maximize participation from its consumers and collect tax revenue for impactful social equity programs in other states.

Communities harmed and inhibited by prohibition are the core populations that the MRTA seeks to empower and transition. Having public trust from these constituencies who have been traditionally harmed by prohibition and are already integrated with the community, is essential to the successful execution of this groundbreaking legislation. Public distrust of this suggested executive director will discourage engagement and recreate the same societal dilemmas the law seeks to resolve.

His appointment is an unnecessary liability towards New York’s cannabis industry leadership and a regressive assault on true social progress. His leadership will quickly tarnish any positively construed legacy that we are collectively vested in implementing in our state. We swiftly urge the consideration of different candidates for the incoming leadership roles and ask the Governor to consider other appointments recommended by the activists and community stakeholders who supported passage of the MRTA. Instead of a controversial figure with a questionable record of leadership, we call upon the Governor to select a BIPOC or culturally competent candidate who understands the full context of prohibition and the ensuing need for social equity as the program’s Executive Director.


Interim Executive Director of NYC NORML

Open Letter of Opposition Executive Dire
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For Press, For Immediate Release

June 4th, 2020

On the anniversary of the loss of our former colleague, activist and friend, Doug Greene - NYC NORML, Empire State NORML, Long Island NORML, & Roc NORML feels it is important to address the recent events and developments following the death of George Floyd.

Unpunished bad policing in the face of public observation and outrage, deteriorates faith in the system that we are told to trust. Public servants are supposed to inspire respect, order and encourage community. We instead are struck by the blatant hypocrisy behind the mantra of "Protecting and Serving". In the wake of the death of George Floyd, justice, community, and order have neither been protected or well served. Inaction in the face of injustice damages the fabric of our trust in the system. So, we hope to see more officers police their own ranks and act upon injustices within their departments, in recognition of the difficult path that lies ahead.

As public interest organizations, we not only wish we spoke sooner, but pushed for positive change sooner. We stand for Black Lives, we stand for George Floyd, we stand with every peaceful protester in the state that is fed up with the systemic racial injustice issue that seems to permeate many police departments. Many within our community have long suffered the unjust and unequal culture of cannabis enforcement that systemically targets and incarcerates marginalized citizens for minor cannabis infractions. Cannabis legalization may not be the end all fix - we need to re-educate law enforcement to police without racial discrimination or disparity. More importantly, we must collectively impart change on an enforcement culture that encourages over-exerting its powers on communities of color.

Everyday our message gains greater importance and yields greater success, but we still have a long way to go. Until we have a colorblind cannabis enforcement policy, we ask that you please exercise caution, be safe and community minded, think before you re-act, and channel your energy into ensuring that we walk out of this together - and better. We may better ourselves and our society through this coming election cycle, focusing our attention towards representatives that act upon our needs and seek to correct the disparities and disregard that allow for these murders of innocents to persist.

As we continue to endure a global pandemic, please remember to wear your mask and take the necessary precautions to prevent further spread of the virus to other citizens who may be at risk. Be well, and stay hopeful.

Board of Directors,


Empire State NORML

Long Island NORML


P.S. If you are financially able, we suggest that you contribute to the various civil rights organizations listed below, that have been on the front lines towards these atrocities - and make sure you are registered to vote. If you have any questions towards which organizations to donate to, or how to register to vote, contact or

List of Charitable Organizations to Donate To:

Also if you have suggestions for other organizations we can add to this list below, please reach out*

Voting Resources:

In Memory of George Floyd - NYC NORML St
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Updated: May 21, 2021

March 7th, 2020

Formal Statement from NYC NORML & Empire State NORML:

On Wednesday March 4th, allegedly, an undercover officer in plain clothes attempted to detain a citizen on the sidewalk without providing a reason for the detainment, or coming arrest

The incident then escalated unnecessarily, resulting in improper criminal charges, physical harm and trauma for an individual that was still acting within his constitutional rights. Additionally it has come to light that law enforcement may have acted in this manner after the observation of the individual (two individuals) using cannabis in public view

This sort of aggression is extreme and not commensurate with two people smoking a joint in a park or any type of cannabis use. Nearly two years ago, Mayor De Blasio announced he was taking steps to have NYPD discontinue enforcement of possession laws. In 2019, the state legislature passed a law which increased the decriminalized possession amounts under New York's penal code. Overall this incident displays a lack of foresight by our legislators, and the harm of settling for decriminalizing cannabis use vs legalizing it entirely.

NYC NORML & Empire State NORML condemns the acts of the involved officers within the Canarsie NYPD. If the incident did not involve a person of color, this sort of response by law enforcement would not have elicited the same response, as the statistics firmly support. We stand with our neighbors, friends and families of color who have been victims time and again of egregious police behavior for non-violent infractions. We encourage Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales to investigate this incident and the officers involved.

Additionally, we call upon the legislature and governor’s office to implement true policy measures that actually result in cannabis users being treated fairly, and are afforded the same amount of rights as any other citizen. Legalization must include remedial education for law enforcement, in which NYC NORML and Empire State NORML are both willing to assist law enforcement transition - as it is in the best interest of all parties involved with this coming policy change.

NYC NORML is in agreement with our colleague Kassandra Federique at the Drug Policy Alliance who also shared a statement on this incident: “People think that legalization is about money and business - but the foremost reason we are advocating for legalization is to prevent harrowing moments like this. Legalization will not end targeted enforcement but it will remove a tool that for too long has been used to target and harass communities of color.”

We urge our elected officials to stand up for the rights of the communities they represent and to discuss the merits of adult use legalization with their communities, so we can have a safe, regulated and less racially charged environment in which to co-exist.


Board of Directors, Board of Directors,


Download PDF • 113KB

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