By Anna Donch and Jill Carvajal

Almost a year after the legalization of recreational marijuana – a significant victory for social justice advocates and cannabis industry enthusiasts – New York State continues to progress toward full implementation of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. Although adult-use marijuana is not yet available for retail purchase, the legalization of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older has flung wide the doors to a rapidly expanding market that has the potential to bring in billions of dollars in tax revenue. This incredible opportunity is the result of a collective effort; state and local officials, regulators, investors, legal advisors, and cannabis industry visionaries came together to guarantee that New York State and its residents will reap the benefits – medical, social, and financial – of cannabis. The first dispensaries for adult-use marijuana may not open until later this year, but it’s high time we honor these trailblazers in cannabis. Our Cannabis Industry Power Players list seeks to do just that.

Check out our interviews with the Cannabis Industry Power Players by clicking here.

Ngiste Abebe – Columbia Care

Ngiste Abebe

Vice President of Public Policy, Columbia Care

Ngiste Abebe – Columbia Care

Ngiste is vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, one of the nation’s leading medical cannabis companies. She serves as the president of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association and the vice chair of Virginia’s Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council. She is the co-founder of New Leaders Council Virginia, a progressive leadership institute. Ngiste holds a B.A. in Public Policy from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
Hopefully as one of the most diverse markets, fueling innovation and research for the entire industry.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
The combination of relief for my health issues and the need for more equitable, just legalization.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
“Recreational” use is a misnomer. The majority of adults use cannabis for health reasons – pain, anxiety, and insomnia being the top three.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
Yoga paired with the Sour Tangie from our Seed and Strain line.

Eric Adams – Brooklyn Borough President (1)

Eric Adams

Mayor, New York City

Eric Adams – Brooklyn Borough President (1)

During his time as Brooklyn Borough President, and in his current role as Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams has articulated his support for the thoughtful regulation of adult-use cannabis. Mayor Adams recognizes the potential of the cannabis industry to reduce economic disparities and to promote women- and minority-owned businesses, and he supports a rollout of the MRTA that is mindful of the public health consequences of cannabis and possible workplace safety issues.

Chris Alexander – OCM

Chris Alexander

Executive Director, Office of Cannabis Management

Chris Alexander – OCM

Chris Alexander is a criminal justice reformer, advocate, and policy expert. He is a native of Hollis, Queens, and the son of immigrant parents who came to the United States from the Caribbean island of Grenada. He has worked tirelessly to advance cannabis reform from a variety of perspectives. Most notably, he was the architect of the Start SMART NY campaign to end marijuana prohibition and the lead drafter of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
We are moving quickly, having already vastly expanded access to the Medical Cannabis Program and officially launched the Cannabinoid Hemp Program in just our first few months of operations. As that work evolves, it will give birth to a robust industry that protects and promotes public health while creating opportunity for those in communities most harmed by the disproportionate policing of the prohibition era.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
Ending prohibition and legalizing cannabis is my life’s work. I became aware of the cannabis industry while I was already deep in the fight to end stop and frisk in New York City and the resulting marijuana possession arrests that were centralized in my community and communities that looked like mine.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
I think what is most interesting about cannabis, the plant, is that there is still so much that we don’t know about its true medicinal benefits. I am really excited to see the new research that comes out of the research community around how this plant can help improve people’s quality of life as a treatment for particular ailments. We have only scratched the surface.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
I really value my time in the gym. It’s therapeutic and grounding. The pandemic hasn’t helped with my consistency, but it is something I am eager to resume as a part of my daily regimen. In a larger sense – for me – it’s really just about movement. I find ways to be active in my everyday life, like taking the stairs instead of an escalator or taking walks with my family. Those small choices can go a long way.

Eric Altstadter – EisnerAmper (1)

Eric Altstadter

Audit Partner and Chair of Cannabis and Hemp Practice, EisnerAmper LLP

Eric Altstadter – EisnerAmper (1)

Eric Altstadter is an audit partner at EisnerAmper LLP and has more than 30 years of experience working with public companies and privately held businesses throughout the country. Eric is the former partner-in-charge of the firm’s Long Island office and played an integral role in growing EisnerAmper’s practice in that market. He is also a frequent speaker on accounting, auditing and business topics. In addition, Eric is the chair of the firm’s Cannabis and Hemp Practice.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
Becoming more mainstream. Dispensaries will be as common as stores that sell wines and liquors.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
It’s a growing industry, no pun intended, and it’s exciting to be involved at the inception of this industry.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
I have been involved in the industry for 40 years, I just never thought I would be getting a salary from it.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
I like to walk and ride my bicycle.

Jamie Ansorge – Cozen O’Connor

Jamie Ansorge

Principal, Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies

Jamie Ansorge – Cozen O’Connor

Jamie Ansorge is a leading cannabis attorney and lobbyist in New York State. He has counseled several of the world’s leading cannabis companies, including Canopy Growth, Curaleaf, and Dutchie, as well as future social equity license applicants, on the New York market. Jamie was deeply involved in efforts to pass legislation on hemp and CBD products that preceded the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, and was active in adult-use legalization efforts as well. As proposed regulations are released by the Office of Cannabis Management, Jamie will be busy counseling numerous organizations and businesses on what they mean, how to comment, and how to best prepare for licensing.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
I see a multi-billion dollar industry that raises critical revenue for social programs while supporting a diverse array of operators, big and small. The next 6-12 months will be critical as New York finalizes complex regulations for the industry, rolls out licenses, and hopefully gets the market online without further delay.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
I grew up in New York City and saw firsthand the disparate impact of the criminalization of cannabis on communities of color. We can start to right those wrongs while raising hundreds of millions in revenue for New York and making a much better and safer product for patients and recreational users alike. I’ve loved learning the ins and outs of such an exciting industry at this historic moment – one that rivals the lifting of prohibition in the 1930s. My great uncle spoke out against prohibition as a congressman from Harlem in the 1920s, and I’m proud to continue that legacy!

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
Our client, Canopy Growth, bought an abandoned Hershey’s chocolate factory in Ontario, Canada, and turned it into a billion-dollar cannabis facility that has reinvigorated local economies and is making THC-infused chocolates, among other amazing products. They are hoping to do something similar in an old vacuum manufacturing facility in Broome County, New York, and across the United States. They also have celebrities like Seth Rogan, Martha Stewart, and Snoop Dogg touting their products.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
I have a Brooklyn dad’s basketball game that I look forward to every week. We also made the pandemic Peloton purchase that has been a game-changer. I’ve heard from a close friend that edibles make for great stretching on off-days!

Leah Bailey – AUDACIOUS

Leah Bailey

Chief Business Development Officer, AUDACIOUS

Leah Bailey – AUDACIOUS

Leah Bailey is a highly respected industry leader and advisor, and the chief business development officer for AUDACIOUS, a publicly traded multi-state cannabis company. She has more than 30 years of experience in marketing, strategy, and management, and has held senior-level executive roles in private and public companies in the CPG and cannabis industries. Leah serves on the board of Tikun Olam USA, the leader in medical cannabis research and development.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in NY State in 5 years?
In five years, I expect that the cannabis industry in New York State will be the second largest in the country. We’re at the earliest stage of potential and there’s a lot of work to be done, especially around equity and inclusion, regulation, and full legalization. We are very excited about entering the New York market with our Native American partner First Americans LLC and look forward to future projects in the state. 

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
I love the fast pace, innovation, and that we can make an impact on people’s lives. I also appreciate that it’s filled with smart and driven people and products that support people’s health. Perhaps most importantly, I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to support causes that are important to me, such as social equity. 

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
Supposedly, William Shakespeare enjoyed cannabis; marijuana residue was found in his home, which some believe helped with his creativity and to write a vast number of screenplays and poems. 

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health, tell us your favorite way you stay healthy & fit.
I try to stay active by walking and eating healthy. I think it is also important to be inspired by your work – which challenges me in a positive way every day – to keep your mind healthy. Cannabis has also helped me relax and sleep better, which is invaluable.

Mitch Baruchowitz – Merida Capital Holdings

Mitch Baruchowitz

Managing Partner, Merida Capital Holdings LLC

Mitch Baruchowitz – Merida Capital Holdings

Mitch Baruchowitz is the founder and managing partner of Merida Capital Holdings, LLC. Mr. Baruchowitz has nine years of experience in the legal cannabis industry and is considered a national expert in the diverse licensing regimes governing each state.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
Cannabis will be legalized and one of the strongest growing markets not only in New York, but in the United States.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
My cannabis career began in assisting Colorado-based legal cultivators to structure state-compliant capital transactions and analyzing the legal cannabis market in order to develop an optimal business strategy for their operations.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
It has many uses and is slowly replacing many synthetic products.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
Clean eating, regular exercise, and a healthy overall lifestyle.

Jennifer Bassuk – Fluence by OSRAM

Jennifer Bassuk

Global Business Development, Fluence by OSRAM

Jennifer Bassuk – Fluence by OSRAM

Jennifer Bassuk is an evangelist for agricultural innovation and turned her longstanding interest in urban farming into her professional focus after more than a decade at Amazon. Jen now spearheads global business development initiatives for Fluence, a leading global provider of energy-efficient LED lighting solutions, and connects the dots between investors and cultivators. She currently serves on Farm Tech Society’s advisory board; sits on the board of Culception, an autonomous cultivation company in the cannabis market; and is an advisor to Farm.One, Manhattan’s only commercial vertical farm.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
New York is poised to be one of the largest cannabis markets globally and will elevate communities adversely affected by cannabis by emphasizing education, social equity, and technology.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
It’s a unique time in cannabis. We’re on the ground floor of a nascent, emerging market that will impact many sectors. The industry offers companies real opportunities to grow smarter via innovation, education and social equity – all of which I’m passionate about advancing.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
Imagine taking all of the lights from Yankee Stadium and putting them into a space a little larger than an average Duane Reade — that’s the equivalent of a cannabis cultivation facility’s energy usage. If you then use Fluence LED lighting in a facility that size (instead of HPS lights), the carbon reduction impact is the same as removing 420 cars from the road each year.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
Rowing is my go-to sport. It’s a fun, engaging workout that keeps me active and healthy throughout the year.

Axel Bernabe – OCM

Axel Bernabe

Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Director, Office of Cannabis Management

Axel Bernabe – OCM

Axel Bernabe has over 20 years of legal experience and robust knowledge of cannabis regulation and policy. For six years prior to joining the OCM, Axel was counsel on health for the New York State Executive Chamber, which included direction over the medical cannabis and cannabinoid hemp programs. Axel spearheaded the legalization of adult-use cannabis, helping build consensus around the MRTA. Prior to the Governor’s Office, Axel was a law firm partner and nationally recognized antitrust expert.

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
The industry we create will be interconnected, delivering opportunity and justice to the communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, distressed farmers, and ultimately all New Yorkers. I truly hope that the industry will be characterized by thousands of small businesses, many owned by social equity applicants, engaged in a local and sustainable supply chain that provides plenty of choice and innovation to consumers and patients. 

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
The ability to deliver social and economic justice has always been the core of the attraction. There will never be another opportunity like this where we can build a new industry from the ground up that reduces risk to public health and centers on justice. Using my antitrust and economic background, I hope to help ensure that the new industry favors small- and medium-sized enterprises, and provides a competitive market that fosters innovation, is locally sourced, and is focused on sustainable products. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help craft a compassionate, community-centered form of capitalism.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
Cannabis is the only substance I am aware of that society has permitted to be sold as both a medicine and a recreational substance. Indeed, the cannabis sativa plant is unique in that it straddles six entirely different regulatory pathways from industrial usage, to food, supplements, recreational drug, and medicine. Truly unique!

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
I have always believed that a sound body equals a sound mind, so exercise and proper diet have always been central to my lifestyle. I cycle, play soccer, and try to keep up with my kids – as long as I can out-sprint my 11 year old, I know I’m still in shape. But more importantly, recognizing how the small things we do daily can have a big influence on our state of mental and physical health means being mindful and intentional about what we consume every day. It’s the same thing with cannabis: understanding how cannabinoids interact with your endocannabinoid system and how to moderate your dose for maximum effect over time is the strategy to long-term consumption and wellbeing.

Eddie Brennan – Beak & Skiff

Eddie Brennan

President and Co-Owner, Beak & Skiff

Eddie Brennan – Beak & Skiff

Eddie Brennan is the president of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in Lafayette, New York. After a career in retail in NYC, he changed paths to join his family’s business in 2013. As part of the fifth generation, he strongly believes in maintaining the core values of his great-great grandfather, George Skiff – quality, innovation, and family. The product offering started with apples and fresh cider and has grown to include: hard cider, spirits, and wine, among other beverages. Most recently, Brennan has led the business into the exciting world of cannabis!

Where do you see the cannabis industry in New York State in five years?
New York has an amazing opportunity to connect our rich tradition of agriculture with the most innovative marketplace in the world. If we have a diverse, small business-focused, vibrant industry, New York could produce global cannabis leaders.

What attracted you to the cannabis industry?
I have seen enormous benefits from consuming cannabis, and it is our duty to help break down the stigmatization and misinformation around this plant. As an established business with 110 years of experience, we can help bring credibility to marijuana.

Tell us one fun fact about cannabis!
The wonderful smells of both our apple orchards and cannabis fields share the same culprit – terpenes.

Cannabis has clear value to people’s health. Tell us your favorite way to stay healthy and fit.
I take my fitness and health seriously, as it’s one of the most important aspects of my life. It keeps me clear-headed and mentally sharp. I eat pretty clean (and have an apple a day), but I have my vices too . . . cereal!