New York Approves First Recreational Marijuana Dispensary Licenses

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The New York State Cannabis Control Board has approved the first round of recreational dispensary licenses along with a set of regulations on the sale of weed products, a major step in the long-delayed process for legal marijuana stores.

Eight of the 36 Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses awarded Monday went to nonprofit organizations, while the other 28 went to applicants who have either a previous marijuana conviction themselves or a family member impacted by the war on drugs. The approvals mean the state’s legalized market should be up and running before the end of the year, NY1 reported.

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One of the conditions of the license requires that the first sales be from plants grown in New York, according to the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). Initially, 175 licenses will be granted in a first round. After that, applications will be considered by the state agency on a rolling basis.

“With the first adult-use retail dispensary licenses in the hands of businesses and eligible nonprofits, we’ve ensured the first sales will be made at dispensaries operated by those impacted by the unjust enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” said Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board. “This is just the start. We will continue to work to build an industry that is open to anyone who wants to participate.”  

Some of the regulations approved in Monday’s vote concern the role of municipalities in regulating storefronts; social and economic equity program provisions; business operating requirements, such as record-keeping and transportation; and guidelines on application selection and renewal process, according to the OCM. Those will move to a 60-day public comment period before final approval.

Many of the regulations come from the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which was passed in March 2021. The law requires ingredients in all products to be listed, requires childproof packaging, prohibits advertisements near schools, and forbids promotional material that includes words like “stoner,” “chronic,” “weed,” “pot” or “sticky buds.”

The announcement that 36 new licenses had been awarded comes almost a month after President Joe Biden issued 6,500 pardons for people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law during times when Black New Yorkers were 15 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than their white counterparts and Hispanic people were eight times more susceptible to incarceration.

It took over a year and half between passage of the MRTA and the issuance of these licenses. In the meantime, weed bodegas have popped up across the city selling THC in their stores under a legal gray area. 

But that has not stopped the New York City Police Department and the state from at least trying to send a message to unlawful sellers, with 19 cannabis trucks seized in the five boroughs in August alone and a number of storefronts receiving cease and desist orders from the OCM  in July.

And it didn’t stop there.

In the third quarter of 2022, New York City recorded 42 arrests for unlawful possession or sale of weed. The majority of the individuals arrested were lack and brown, with 18 belonging to the former demographic and 16 belonging to the latter, according to NYPD records.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.