New leadership at NY Office of Cannabis Management aims to fix botched legal marijuana industry rollout

Cannabis enforcement officer posts sign on raided store in Manhattan
An Office of Cannabis Management enforcement officer posts a sign after a store was raided in Manhattan for illegal pot sales on June 7, 2023.
File photo/Courtesy of OCM

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Monday a new leadership team within the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) as part of her latest step to overhaul the mistake-riddled industry. 

The announcement comes as a bottleneck of license applicants continues, and rules about selling and using legal pot within the state remain unclear. Locally, and despite the city and state’s aggressive initiative launched last month to curb unlicensed cannabis vendors in the city, illegal pot shops are popping up in neighborhoods faster than legal dispensaries have been able to open around the city. 

As part of her plan to fix this economic woe for the state, Hochul hired three new leaders at OCM, starting with Felicia A.B. Reid as executive director and acting executive director. 

Chris Alexander, the first OCM executive director, was initially slated to resign from his post effective in September, Hochul announced last month. Alexander held the position since the agency opened in March 2021, when New York legalized recreational marijuana use. 

Reid, an attorney, has a résumé that includes more than a decade of experience in state government. She spent the previous six years at the Office of Children and Family Services. 

She said she will focus on making New York’s cannabis industry “one that meets the needs” of businesses and consumers. 

“Cannabis is an enormous opportunity for our state, and OCM is obligated to ensure that its work makes those opportunities accessible, transparent, and responsive to the industry’s movement and trends,” Reid said. “I want to thank Governor Hochul for this opportunity and look forward to doing the work with equity as the central-most focus of OCM’s way forward.”

Susan Filburn was appointed chief administrative officer of the agency, a new position that will help “streamline the license review process and improve responsiveness,” according to a state press release. Filburn is a U.S. Army veteran who brings 20 years of state government experience to the position. 

Jessica Woolford is the new director of external affairs will build out the agency’s first customer service team to provide “transparency to applicants, licensees and consumers about the agency’s processes and the marketplace,” according to the press release. 

Woolford was promoted from within OCM. 

Cannabis industry ‘challenges’

Hochul has been open about the failure of the state’s legal cannabis rollout since last month, when the state’s Office of General Services conducted a review citing problems within the OCM. Some of the problems the review found include a lack of communication from the agency to hundreds of people applying for a CAURD (conditional adult-use retail dispensary) license. 

Throughout the state, many people have applied for licenses over six months ago and have not yet heard back about whether or not they will receive one. 

“It’s fair to say New York’s emerging cannabis industry has had plenty of challenges before it,” Hochul said at a press conference last month. “Some of them beyond our control, like litigation from out-of-state mega corporations that set us back for at least nine months, and actually some related to challenges within my administration.”

The new appointees build on Hochul’s commitment to overhaul OCM after the findings from the General Services review were announced. 

“I’m committed to ensuring New York’s nation-leading cannabis market continues to thrive,” Hochul said. “With these new appointees, the Office of Cannabis Management will continue to focus on expanding the most equitable adult-use market in the nation while cracking down on illicit storefronts.”