New York issues first licenses for legal marijuana dispensaries

New York issued its first 36 cannabis dispensary licenses on Monday, taking a monumental step in establishing a legal and lucrative market for recreational marijuana.

The licenses approved by the state Cannabis Control Board were the first of 175 the state plans to issue, with many in the first round reserved for applicants with criminal records for marijuana-related offenses.

Eight nonprofit groups were among the 36 licensees awarded Monday.

Some of the dispensaries, selected from a pool of more than 900 applicants, are expected to open by the end of the year.

New York has also planned a $200 million public-private fund to help “social equity” claimants repair the ravages of the war on drugs, especially in communities of color.

“This is a monumental moment and represents the last leg of the cannabis supply chain that requires a license,” said Tremaine Wright, who chairs the Cannabis Control Board.

“Not long ago, the idea of ​​New York legalizing cannabis seemed incredible. Now, we’ve not only legalized it, but we’re also building a legal adult-use marketplace with an equity-driven approach that embodies the ambitious goals” of the state’s marijuana law.

A court ruling earlier this month delayed board approval of dispensaries in some parts of the state amid a legal dispute over licensing criteria. However, officials said they would issue the remaining licenses as quickly as possible.

Angel Turuseta and Emely Chavez, who operate Royal Leaf NY in the Bronx, were among those who obtained one of the first licenses.

“I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Turuseta, who expressed surprise when contacted just after the board meeting.

Another new licensee, Suzanne Furboter of Queens, also searched for words. “It’s very exciting and we feel grateful,” she said.

Housing Works, a New York City nonprofit, said the license it received Monday would allow it to continue its work helping low-income New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS.

“It was clear to us that sales from the legal recreational cannabis industry would allow us to help more people and increase services to our customers, whether it be supporting those who have been wrongfully imprisoned in the War on Drugs, or the homeless. and/or living with HIV/AIDS,” the agency said in a statement,

With the first licenses now issued, it remains to be seen if officials will step up their efforts to go after dozens of unauthorized dispensaries opened last year by people who shrugged off the licensing requirements.

New York legalized the recreational use of marijuana in March 2021, but is still in the process of issuing licenses to people to sell it.

The cannabis board also advanced proposed regulations for the sale of marijuana, with a focus on public health, product quality and safety, and preventing those under 21 from purchasing cannabis.

While some rejoiced at Monday’s development, others took a more cautious view.

“We are a bit concerned if these licensees are being doomed,” said Reginald Fluellen, a spokesman for the Cannabis Social Equity Coalition.

He argues that more attention should be paid to the quality and safety of the products that will be put on the shelves of these legal dispensaries, in addition to making more resources available to help train employers and their workers.

Just as concerning, Fluellen said, is whether these new legal recreational dispensaries will be able to compete with existing medical marijuana outlets if they are allowed to enter the recreational market at the same time as the new licensees. But according to the draft regulations released Sunday, medical establishments may have to wait another three years before they can enter the recreational market.

The New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association applauded the cannabis board’s decision to issue licenses, but said the attached draft regulation approved for public comment “raises a number of serious concerns.” Among them, the group said, was “the restrictive nature of the state’s medical program.”

Dan Livingston, executive director of the New York Cannabis Association, hailed the long-awaited issuance of the first licenses as “tremendous progress” in establishing a sustainable cannabis industry in the state, adding that “growers and processors New York Cannabis can finally start preparing products for sale in these soon-to-be-established stores.”

“It is exciting to see that a full supply chain has been established and we are looking forward to starting legal sales soon,” he said.