As federal legalization of marijuana edges closer, Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, talks about the implications for medical cannabis and how communications are critical to sustaining and growing the industry.

Wright will join a host of healthcare leaders at MM+M Transform, scheduled for May 5 in New York City. To learn more about Wright’s keynote fireside chat at Transform, “Cannabis: A Public Health Approach,” click here.

Destigmatizing marijuana has been a challenge for the nascent cannabis industry. While supporters look toward federal legalization, some are concerned that this could stimulate the recreational market at the expense of the medical CBD sector.

Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, joined the MM+M Podcast to talk about how medical marketers play a vital role in helping facilitate consumers’ comfort level, as well as the state’s recently launched public service campaign.

Wright will join a host of healthcare leaders at MM+M Transform, scheduled for May 5 in New York City. To learn more about Wright’s keynote fireside chat at Transform, “Cannabis: A Public Health Approach,” click here.

(The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

Marc Iskowitz, editor-at-large, MM+M: With legalization, New York state shifted from a policy centered on law enforcement to one centered on public health. How are you committed to mitigating the impact of previous laws and facilitating access? 

Chair Tremaine Wright: The law here in New York, approved in 2021, is called the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. It was specifically drafted and passed in a way that will allow for an equitable inclusion, a pathway for all participants.

We were very much concerned with, and we maintain a mandate to, prioritize those who’ve been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis that was decades long and that has really devastated families as well as communities. So in our law, we have prioritized those who have been charged and or incarcerated because of marijuana and/or marijuana-related charges. And the agency is doing just that. 

Additionally, we have identified a group of social equity applicants throughout this state, which includes those who live in communities that were harmed, distressed farmers, service-disabled veterans, as well as minority/women-owned business enterprise (MwBE) businesses. So we are really focused on making sure that one, people have access to the market, and then, two, that we’re building out a regulatory framework that prioritizes the health of people. 

MM+M: How is that public health approach playing out so far in your messaging? 

Wright: Our communications with the public began with a series of 11 virtual meetings, in which we discussed with the community the status of the law and what they should be expecting from the regulatory framework. We called it “Cannabis Conversations,” and we tried to hit every region of the state. We even did it in Spanish language. 

And two weeks ago, we announced a statewide public health campaign to do additional outreach. The campaign is focused on safe consumption, stopping or reducing driving while impaired, as well as safe storage of cannabis products in the home. We want people to keep their kids and pets away from their [cannabis] products. We’re really focused on making sure that people know and understand that they can consume cannabis, that they can get safe cannabis, and that there is a way for us to push forward so that people really have access, they’re able to enjoy it, it grows the industry and that we all remain safe during this process. 

MM+M: Some of the PSAs have begun airing, right?

Wright: Yes, as part of our public education campaign, we’ve launched a series of electronic billboards across the state, which appear along interstates and highways. The messaging people see is, what the law is in New York, that it is legal to have cannabis, that they must not drive while impaired. Also, that we are improving services of our law enforcement agents, so that they know how to discern impairment and that we’re not focused on just cannabis use. 

We are also airing 30-second commercials – they’re really 30-second shorts – on social media and on cable stations in some of our smaller markets. We’re really just trying to do outreach to let people know that we want them to be able to access the regulated market, that the regulated market will provide them with safe product, that there is a manner in which they should use it so that they can maintain their safety and that we can prevent abuse or misuse of the product, as well.

MM+M: What should marketers be gearing up for vis-a-vis the legality of cannabis in New York state?

Wright: Marketers need to, one, make sure that they’re connected to our agency at Get alerts from us, attend our board meetings – I promise you they’re not that long, as we are making expansions to our medical regulations. In the past six months, we have allowed for whole-flower sales, we’ve increased the number of physicians and or practitioners that can actually prescribe, and we’ve also laid out our regulations for home-grow standards for medical patients. We need our marketers to know and understand what the current law is and to help communicate that message to our public and help to build trust as well as support.

MM+M: New York approved medical use in 2014, and you passed the regulation in 2021 for adult use. As you transition toward adult use, how are you making sure that the recreational market doesn’t grow at the expense of the medical market? 

Wright: Our medical market is still pretty young here in New York. We know that we don’t have enough stores and that we need to grow access. So we are working hand-in-hand with our registered organizations – those that can operate in the medical marijuana space, that operate dispensaries – to ensure that the messaging is clear that we support medicinal use, that there are health benefits and properties that people need to know and understand about this plant. 

We’re trying to develop the language of consumers and the public. Part of that work is us improving our medical regulations. We’ve done amendments through our medical regulations. As mentioned, there’s now flower available at our ROs. People can get a lower-cost product at those facilities, and we hope that that will increase use.

We’re also allowing people to grow at home, and we really are focused on making sure that our practitioners know and understand that they, too, have access to cannabis as a medicinal care product, and that they can prescribe it for their patients. We’ve increased the number of physicians and the types of practitioners that can prescribe cannabis. So we are really trying to make sure that they know that the market is supported by the agency and by our state, and that we want them to be full participants. 

They have had the opportunity to sort of settle themselves in, but now we need them to really flourish. So we’re trying to make sure that we engage them so that they can really get a strong foothold in that space and help us as we educate consumers. 

MM+M: Can you talk about how medical communications, versus ads for recreational use, can facilitate the public’s comfort level with cannabis?

Wright: People know and trust their physicians. People know and trust the medical communications that they receive. People know and trust medicine in the United States. And so when we have partners that say, “We’ve done studies. We’ve had success. My patients are seeing better results.” When orthopedic surgeons say, “We’re working with pain management doctors, and we’re able to prescribe CBDs instead of opioids.” These are success stories that people rely on, and this is what we need in the market, so that it normalizes the conversation. 

We need to destigmatize this plant. And we know that work is happening. We know that research is occurring. We know that people are using it and having success. When we hear from our medical providers and the medical marketers about those successes, we all gain. The business gains, the profession gains and benefits, as well as the consumer. 

And so I feel like we need their voice at the table and we need them to be just unafraid and completely bold in making those statements. We need to rely on them to help normalize this plant and also to really take advantage of all of the benefits that are available to us. 

Listeners will have an additional chance to hear Chair Wright, and ask questions pertaining to cannabis marketing, at MM+M Transform, scheduled for May 5 in New York City.