Legal retail marijuana is just around the corner
By James Barron
In the end, the numbers were 903, 28, 8 and 282.
It’s not a football play. There were 903 applicants for licenses for the first retail recreational marijuana stores in New York state. Earlier this week, 28 licenses went to entrepreneurs and eight to nonprofits. And regulators released 282 pages of proposed fees and timelines that, among other things, would let the state’s existing medical cannabis providers get into the recreational market.
The licenses were awarded by the state Cannabis Control Board. The action closed a seed-to-sale supply chain and is expected to lead to legal retail marijuana sales by the end of the year, even though a Michigan company is challenging some of the New York license requirements — including one that says applicants must have been convicted of a cannabis offense in New York state. That provision was intended to help provide opportunities in the legal cannabis business to people in communities that were targeted during the war on drugs.
Tremaine Wright, the chairwoman of the board, called the vote on Monday “a monumental moment.”
“Not long ago, the idea of New York legalizing cannabis seemed unbelievable,” she said. “Now, not only have we legalized, but we’re also building a legal adult-use market with an equity-driven approach.”
The Office of Cannabis Management, which develops regulations under the control board’s supervision, said most of the licenses went to people in New York City and on Long Island. Freeman Klopott, the agency’s spokesman, said 20 of the recipients were from areas with some of the lowest median household incomes in the country.
Among them were Naiomy Guerrero, 31, and her father and an older brother, Hector. She said Hector had been arrested several times for possession of marijuana during the era of stop and frisk, a program that led to unjustified pedestrian stops and searches in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods like Morris Heights in the Bronx, where the Guerrero siblings grew up. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that such tactics were racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
“To do this for my family, to move this forward, is my life’s work,” she said. “If the true goal of cannabis in New York is to be equitable, then who better than us? Because we’ve suffered at the hands of the war on drugs. We come from the most policed neighborhoods in the Bronx.”
Licenses went to at least three New York City-based nonprofits: Housing Works, the Doe Fund and LIFE Camp, a 20-year-old nonprofit whose original purpose was to help reduce violence and arrests in southeast Queens. It is thought to be the first nonprofit led by a Black woman to receive a license.
The 36 licensees must now submit additional information about their finances and business partners. Once regulators have reviewed that information, they can begin deliveries from locations of their choice, a shift announced on Monday that regulators said would allow operators to “generate capital and scale their operations.”
But that change suggests that the state may be struggling to provide the license holders with storefronts and loans as planned. The state Dormitory Authority, the agency leading the leasing and design process for the storefronts, said in a statement that with licensees being selected and “a delivery model in place,” it could now “continue finalizing leases and financing without delaying sales.”