A trade group that represents New York medical marijuana growers in a lawsuit against the state has changed law firms.
The New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which represents the top five companies awarded a license to grow and dispense medical marijuana in July 2015, had retained national law firm Harris Beach when it filed a lawsuit against the state in Albany County Supreme Court in May, New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association v. NYS Dept of Health, 2848-17.1, seeking to stop the state’s Department of Health from awarding licenses to five more companies. The association claims that growing the operations would cannibalize the medical marijuana industry, which is struggling in New York.
According to a document for consent to change attorneys filed with the Albany County Supreme Court dated June 5, Albany-based business firm Couch White has taken over representation of the industry association in the lawsuit. Three people involved with the lawsuit who are familiar with the matter, but who declined to be named due to the ongoing litigation, said Harris Beach withdrew from the case, citing a conflict of interest. Karl Sleight, an attorney at Harris Beach who worked on the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment seeking information about what the conflict is.
Couch White, a full-service firm, was chosen by the industry association because of the firm’s experience with the state’s Department of Health, a spokesman for the association said. A hearing on the suit is slated for Sept. 12.
Jennifer Kavney Harvey, a litigation partner at Couch White who is listed in court documents as the new attorney on the lawsuit, has represented clients in construction-related litigation, including contractual disputes, according to a biography posted on the firm’s website. Harvey has also assisted clients in bidding and government procurement matters, including bid protests, her bio says. She did not return a request for comment from the New York Law Journal.
Earlier this month, the state announced five additional companies were awarded licenses to manufacture and dispense medical marijuana (NYLJ Aug. 1), effectively doubling the size of the program. Roughly two weeks after the announcement, the Department of Health announced its plans to soon make available marijuana-infused lotions, patches and chewables in an effort to improve the program (NYLJ Aug. 11), which is off to an unexpectedly slow start. As of March 30, the state had collected just $585,000 in tax revenue from the sale of medical marijuana in New York, far less than the $4 million in revenue from a 7 percent excise tax on medical marijuana the Cuomo administration had projected when the program began last year.
In December 2016, the Cuomo administration began interviewing additional medical marijuana growers in the hopes of expanding the program, reaching out to bidders who ranked sixth through 10th who had initially applied to grow and sell medical marijuana in June 2015. The five additional companies, according to court documents reviewed by the New York Law Journal, have each filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, all of which have been granted. One of the newest licensees, Valley Agriceuticals, had sued the state in June 2016 after the state declined to provide documents through a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about the Department of Health’s medical marijuana scoring decision. According to court records, the proceedings were held in abeyance as both sides tried to come to an amicable resolution. In November, the lawsuit from Valley Agriceuticals was withdrawn, and a month later the Cuomo administration confirmed that it had begun interviewing additional medical marijuana growers—including Valley Agriceuticals—in the hopes of expanding the program.