State officials voted Thursday to approve new regulations for the first batch of cannabis retail licenses, pushing New York one step closer to opening its first legal, non-medical dispensaries.
After reviewing more than 600 comments from the public, the state’s Cannabis Control Board voted to move forward with its original plan, announced in March, to reserve the first batch of retail licenses for people who have a past marijuana conviction or their family members. Applicants must also have experience running their own business.
The new regulations take effect August 3rd.
“We will give at least a 14-day heads up before the application opens,” Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesperson for the state Office of Cannabis Management, told Gothamist.
The plan is a part of the state’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which also prioritized existing New York hemp growers for the first marijuana cultivation licenses. Those have been approved on a rolling basis since April. The initiative also created a $200 million fund to help get so-called social equity businesses off the ground.
“This initiative that combines the work we’ve been doing with the conditional farmers and processors … gas well as the $200 million social equity fund is really a first in the nation,” Axel Bernabe, chief of staff and senior policy director for the state Office of Cannabis Management, said at Thursday’s meeting.
The retail licensing scheme has been hailed by activists as an innovative way of getting those harmed by the war on drugs into the legal cannabis industry. But some critics have also noted that it does not explicitly prioritize so-called “legacy” operators who have long been selling underground and are looking to transition to legal sales.
Bernabe said, when reviewing comments on the proposed regulations, “Overall, the commenters expressed excitement for the regulations and supported the inclusion of justice-involved individuals as the first individuals to receive a retail license.”
The state posted a mock-up of the retail license applications online that indicates the kind of documentation that applicants need to meet the approved criteria. State officials said the applications would likely go live sometime next month, although they didn’t give an exact date.
On Thursday, the Cannabis Control Board also approved another 20 applications to grow marijuana, bringing the total number of licensed growers statewide to 223. That’s out of more than 250 cultivation applications that were submitted ahead of a June 30th deadline for the first batch of cultivation licenses, some of which are still under review.
Since New York legalized marijuana in March 2021, a growing number of unauthorized dispensaries have popped up on city streets and elsewhere in the state. With the licensing process moving forward, state officials have doubled down on their pledge to penalize storefronts selling marijuana without a license.
Following pressure from Gothamist, the state Office of Cannabis Management recently released the names of 66 operators that have received cease and desist letters — saying their violations will jeopardize their chances of getting a license. They could also face other penalties if they don’t stop selling marijuana illegally. As Gothamist reported, some have ignored the directive.
New York regulators still have to develop regulations for the broader pool of retail applicants in the state’s cannabis industry. The first dispensaries are expected to open by the end of the year, with others following in early 2023.