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Raimondo’s top marijuana regulator leaving Rhode Island

Local News

Norman Birenbaum, the top cannabis regulator in RI, has been tapped by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. (WPRI/Corey Welch)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s top marijuana regulator is leaving his job, right before the state is set to expand the number of medical dispensaries and once again propose legalizing recreational marijuana.

Norman Birenbaum, the cannabis regulator in the Department of Business Regulation for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration, told Target 12 Friday he’s leaving for a job in New York. His last day is Dec. 6, the same day as a public hearing on new marijuana regulations he announced last week.

Birenbaum declined to comment on what the job is, or whether it involves cannabis, but said there would be an announcement soon.

“This is a job opportunity I can’t say no to,” Birenbaum said. He added that he and his wife both have immediate family in the area of his new gig.

New York is one of several northeast states currently considering marijuana legalization in 2020.

Sometimes referred to as the “pot czar,” Birenbaum has been the go-to person in Raimondo’s administration for marijuana since the state moved oversight of the program from the Department of Health to the Department of Business Regulation. He’s helped craft regulations and legislation related to the medical program, including recent pushes to limit home growing in an effort to tamp down on the black market.

Home growers in the medical program used to be able to sell their excess product to the dispensaries, for example, but are now barred from doing so. Instead, under Birenbaum, dozens of cultivators have been licensed to grow and sell cannabis to the state’s three dispensaries.

“I’m very proud of the work that my staff has been able to do here over the past three years, turning the program around and adopting national best standards,” Birenbaum said.

On top of the six new medical dispensaries expected to be licensed next year, Raimondo plans to propose recreational marijuana legalization again in her budget proposal in January.

An immediate search for his replacement is underway, Birenbaum said.

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