Call it a move from Empire Redwood to Empire State.
The law firm of Omar Figueroa, which focuses on cannabis-related legal services, plans to hang a shingle in New York, seen as an emerging market since voters approved adult recreational use the last year. Medical marijuana became legal there in 2014.
The state is currently working to establish the framework for its licensing and taxation systems with sales rules in place by the end of the year, opening the door for recreational sales.
The law firm, which began practicing in Sebastopol in 2010, is leasing a 50-square-foot office space in Brooklyn that will be staffed and managed by attorney Andrew Kingsdale. Kingsdale, who is also licensed in California and Massachusetts, has worked with the Sonoma County firm since 2018 and has been licensed to practice law in New York for 15 years. Other employees should arrive later. The law firm began taking on clients on February 2.
Firm founder Omar Figueroa also expressed excitement about transcontinental expansion as a way to follow his passion since attending Stanford Law School.
“We were told to follow our passions, so I followed my passion for cannabis by studying cannabis law, which is an exciting area of law filled with new legal issues,” said Figueroa, who also considers himself a a “cannabis connoisseur”. He developed a program to train cannabis sommeliers as a member of the Ganjier Circle, a club of cannabis enthusiasts.
“New York is going to be good for us as a law firm,” Figueroa said, referring to the Golden State’s passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, approving recreational cannabis sales.
The law firm plans to compete with other New York lawyers by using Figueroa’s expertise and highlighting Kingsdale’s membership in the New State Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee. York. He is also the Chair of the Hemp and CBD Committee of the Cannabis Law Section of the New York State Bar Association.
Figueroa, Kingsdale and fellow lawyer Lauren Mendelsohn are active members of cannabis clubs, including Mendelsohn, who is also a director of the International Cannabis Bar Association in Sacramento and a board member of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.
As head of the Sonoma County Law Firm, Figueroa is a cannabis advocate and knows the drill behind starting a cannabis business to operate legally. Last April, he published New York Cannabis Laws and Regulations 2021 available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble as well as select local independent bookstores.
“I think New York can learn from the experience of other states, so they won’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
Will New York learn from California’s mistakes?
The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates New York’s market size to be around 5.2 million consumers, about half the size of California. Association analysts believe the Empire State is poised to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, if it learns from California’s mistakes.
Association economist Beau Whitney criticized how California became short-sighted in overtaxing cannabis growers because they thought they had “a cash cow, and they didn’t.”
“Instead, they should have lowered taxes to get more stake, and they would offset the revenue,” Whitney said, referring to the current industry turmoil in which operators are threatening tax revolts due to superimposition. Cannabis companies have argued for an excise tax exemption and a full transfer of cultivation tax to the executive and legislative branches of the state.
Even though California differentiates itself from New York because it is considered a “growth” state in which it is a mass producer of the crop, the state is knee-deep in a potential market meltdown. Too many products with not enough places to sell them resulted in plummeting wholesale prices, Whitney said.
New York’s medical market “isn’t doing too well,” but bigger dreams await the larger, recreational market for people over 18.
Its rules are expected to be in effect by the end of 2022, with revenue expected to be generated the following year, Whitney added.
“What New York should learn from California’s challenges is that they can’t tax meaningfully,” he said.
Whitney cited a recently published survey commissioned by his company in which cannabis operators were asked if they were making a profit. Forty-two percent surveyed nationwide said they were, while only 26% of California cannabis businesses said they were.
“If (New York does) the opposite of what happened in California, then they will succeed,” he said in a half-joking tone.
Morgan Fox, a policy analyst with the Washington, DC-based nonprofit National Marijuana Reform Organization (NORML), said New York has another longstanding advantage.
“It’s the global trading center of the world,” he said.
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, manufacturing, technology, energy, transportation, agriculture, and banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan worked for various publications, including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Contact her at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]