Bridge West Consulting had an opportunity to speak with Katie Neer, General Counsel and VP of Industry Affairs at Lantern, an e-commerce marketplace that facilitates cannabis home delivery. Katie is also Of Counsel at Dickinson & Avella, PLLC, where she advises clients on regulatory matters. Before joining Lantern, Katie was Director of Government Affairs at Acreage Holdings and the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association Chair. She also served as Assistant Secretary for General Government and Financial Services in the New York State Governor’s Office. It was a pleasure speaking with Katie, and we enjoyed learning about her cannabis industry expertise, her extensive knowledge of the New York cannabis marketplace, and her insights related to the industry challenges that New York cannabis entrepreneurs face.
Please tell us about your background and your ‘journey’ in the cannabis industry, which led you to where you are today.
Katie Neer grew up in a suburb outside of Syracuse, New York where cannabis was readily available, and its use rarely carried consequences. Later, she recognized her own experience as illustrative of the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition focused on communities of color, not towns like the one where she grew up.
College lacrosse brought Katie to New York’s Capital Region, where she got the “political bug” from a series of legislative internships. She eventually earned a master’s degree in public policy and a law degree to increase her versatility for public service. Katie worked on the NY Governor’s State Operations team, where she became aware of the movement to legalize and regulate cannabis for medicinal purposes due to her mentor’s personal battle with terminal cancer. Once she left the Governor’s office for private practice, she got her first cannabis client and dove ‘all in.’
What challenges do you see in the New York cannabis industry?
Katie said, “The first and most significant challenge in the New York cannabis market will be access to capital, and the second is the flourishing ‘gray,’ or illicit market that has boomed since legalization, but before a regulatory rollout. The unregulated market in New York is competitive with consumer access, low prices, desired brands, and product forms. The regulated market will need to be rolled out to focus on market conversion to attract both existing operators and existing consumers into state-licensed channels.”
Katie distinguished between the recent “pop-up” shops and the longstanding legacy market, explaining, “I define the illicit market as the pop-up shops, where people are trying to get a head-start on operating what appears to be a legal, regulated storefront right now. There’s mass consumer confusion, landlord confusion, and confusion at the local and state enforcement agencies. Many people are taking advantage of the void of information and rules. Rolling out a regulated industry that prioritizes Social Equity opportunities for people harmed by the War on Drugs, prevents youth access, and converts legacy operators and consumers to regulated stores is no small undertaking, but I have faith that New York can get this right.”
What advice and best practices can you share with cannabis entrepreneurs in New York?
Katie has advice for entrepreneurs seeking to gain entry into the New York cannabis space. She said, “If you really want a cannabis license in New York, as difficult as it is when you see the frenzy of people jumping in now, wait. Sign-up for the Office of Cannabis Management e-mail alerts. Find a reputable incubator or educational program where you can access service professionals like lawyers, accountants, and other cannabis business owners to help navigate the regulatory and licensing process, such as The Bronx Cannabis Hub, The New York Cannabis Project, a social equity cannabis business incubator powered by Lantern, and the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator and the OG Cannabis Accelerator, powered by Binghamton University.
Can you tell us more about Lantern and its primary markets?
Katie explained, “Lantern is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and operates its e-commerce delivery platform in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Michigan.” She continued, “Lantern is excited about the emerging adult-use cannabis markets in the Northeast, especially New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Lantern is unique in its focus on the consumer, and we are all about destigmatizing the plant and enabling home delivery. We help licensed retailers reach customers they otherwise wouldn’t and help consumers shop just like they do for any other consumer good.”
What do you enjoy in your free time?
With a one-year-old, Katie is still adjusting to life as a first-time mom. But she enjoys family walks, a yoga class here or there, and a dose of “shameless Bravo TV binging with an infused beverage or two.”
Background – Katie Neer’s Biography:
Katie Neer is the General Counsel and VP of Industry Affairs at Lantern, an e-commerce marketplace that facilitates cannabis home delivery. Headquartered in Boston, MA, Lantern currently operates in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Colorado. Katie is also Of Counsel at Dickinson & Avella, PLLC, where she advises clients on regulatory matters.
Before joining Lantern, Katie was in private practice and gained in-house cannabis experience as the Director of Government Affairs at Acreage Holdings, a multi-state operator, and the Chair of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Katie also previously served as Assistant Secretary for General Government and Financial Services in the New York State Governor’s Office. At the Governor’s office, Katie was a member of the state operations team overseeing policy and operations for six agencies: the Department of Financial Services (DFS); the State Insurance Fund; the Department of State; the Department of Tax and Finance; the Office of General Services; and the Gaming Commission. During her time in the Governor’s Office, Katie was responsible for negotiating and overseeing the implementation of several key policy initiatives, including Paid Family Leave, Ride-Share, and the DFS’s cybersecurity regulations.
Katie was listed as one of the Cannabis Industry Power Players by PoliticsNY in 2022 and received the City & State Above and Beyond Award for her work on cannabis policy. Neer was listed as an attorney on The Best Lawyers in America “Ones to Watch” List for Administrative and Regulatory law in 2021. In 2018, she was profiled as an Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Star. She also serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood in New York.