New York’s premier cannabis industry trade group removed its veterans’ advocate after he accused Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration of discriminating against disabled vets — by prioritizing convicted drug felons when awarding licenses to sell marijuana.
Carmine Fiore, the former veterans’ committee chairman of the Cannabis Association of New York State, claims the move was payback for his public criticism of the state’s legal pot rollout, which has been blasted by many observers as slow and chaotic.
“This is direct retaliation for me complaining about the lack of cannabis licenses given to veterans,” Fiore said.
“They didn’t like it.”
The fiery words that got Fiore in hot water with the state’s bud bosses were made in a recent interview with The Post.
The FDNY emergency medical technician — who served in the Army from 2008 to 2016 — complained that, although the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Action Act of 2021 reserved half of all pot sale licenses for groups such as former marijuana convicts, veterans and women, so far ex-cons and their kin have gotten the lion’s share of them.
“Only criminal applicants have been allowed to apply,” Fiore told The Post last month.
A few days after The Post posted his gripes, the Cannabis Association — the private trade group representing marijuana, processors and farmers — suspended his email and access to the internal network of the trade group without warning, he said.
Fiore said he was told by Cannabis executive director Dan Livingston that brass in the group were displeased with his public airing of criticism.
He also suspected that powerful politicians who backed the marijuana legalization law were also upset.
“This is an effort to silence veterans,” Fiore said.
Other members of the veterans committee wrote letters to the Cannabis Association objecting to Fiore’s removal as the vets panel chairman.
“It’s my position that Carmine has drawn valuable attention to veterans’ cannabis issues that
others were unwilling or unable to address,” committee member William Nogard said in a letter to the group’s president Alan Gandelman and Livingston.
He said Fiore’s comments to The Post were “statements of fact” that “veterans are being overlooked and passed over in the OCM licensure process.”
“The article likely embarrassed some people because it shed light on certain biases that are in violation of the letter of the law as per the MRTA,” Norgard said.
In a May 16 letter to vet committee members Leila Zubi, the Cannabis Association’s general counsel, does not explicitly say why Fiore was bounced as chairman of the vets panel.
She said CANY’s mission statement requires the group’s advocacy be “restorative, sustainable, and inclusive” and with a “united voice” and must “remain a trusted, reliable, and ethical leader in the cannabis industry.”
The group did not return a request for comment about Fiore’s claims.
The carefully and vaguely worded statement said removing Fiore was an “extremely difficult but necessary decision” to work with stakeholders, including lawmakers and regulators and “maintain the highest legal and ethical standards.”
Fiore said another veterans’ committee member accused him of sharing privileged information, which he claimed was false.
When asked about Fiore’s claims, a spokesperson for the Office of Cannabis Management said that some veterans had gotten licenses to do things such as mobile sales.
“OCM is committed to ensuring service-disabled veterans are benefitting from New York’s cannabis legalization efforts, and veteran-owned cannabis businesses have already opened in New York,” an OCM spokesperson said.
Cannabis industry reps have expressed frustration as the state’s slow and rocky rollout.
Farmers fume they’re sitting on marijuana they can’t sell because so few pot shops have opened and worry they might go out of business.
Mayor Eric Adams complained an estimated 1,500 illegal operators took over the New York City market, thanks to a weak state law regarding enforcement.
Regulators said a new law approved by Hochul and the legislature as part of the state budget gives them more authority to impose stiffer penalties and close illegal weed operators, though industry insiders are skeptical it’ll have much impact on the black market.
Cannabis Association of New York (CANY) committee chairs are unpaid volunteers who share their expertise and agree to help CANY advocate for inclusivity, accessibility, and opportunities for all of CANY’s members in the cannabis industry.
CANY’s request that Carmine Fiore step down as committee chair was based on CANY’s bylaws and is unrelated to any public-facing media comments Mr. Fiore has made in the past,” said the group’s executive director Dan Livingston.
“CANY fully supports Mr. Fiore’s ability to speak publicly about the issues that impact him personally as a cannabis entrepreneur and veteran.
“Mr. Fiore is still a valued CANY member.”