‘It feels surreal’: New Yorkers with pot convictions prepare to launch state’s first legal sales

The regulations are looking to correct what other states may have failed where legalized marijuana has failed: making sure that disadvantaged communities and minority businesses benefit from the industry.

“It feels surreal,” Durham said of obtaining one of the two licenses.

Durham, who lives in Binghamton, was one of only 36 “justice concerned” individuals, businesses and nonprofits who received provisional approval from state cannabis regulators Monday for a conditional adult use retail dispensary license. The move paves the way for him to open one of the first legal marijuana dispensaries in his area of ​​the state, which borders Pennsylvania.

The new licenses put New York — where illegal sales have proliferated since Albany lawmakers approved recreational marijuana for adult use in 2021 — one step closer to launching legal sales across the state. According to the organizers, dispensaries can open before the end of the year.

State Hemp Control Board on Monday Temporary accredited dispensary licenses for 28 individuals and companies, marking the first of 150 companies plan to award to applicants with prior marijuana convictions and work experience. These licensees will now be linked to retail space and financially supported by it $200 million for a new social equity fund.

The state’s approach is unique not only in terms of who gets licenses, but the fact that Social Justice applicants are the first to get them, said Alan Gandelman, president of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. He noted that in other states, the larger companies were the first to win licenses, making it difficult for smaller social justice dispensaries to compete.

“It’s important from a social justice perspective, but it’s even more important from a market perspective: giving people access to the market first is huge,” he said.

New York lawmakers have been insisting that the program first help those who have been harmed by marijuana being illegal, which has been disproportionately minority communities.

“It should not be lost on anyone that this is truly the first of its kind [program] Anywhere,” said Gene Metzger, a former state senator and member of the Cannabis Control Board. “We’re really led by stocks here.”

Durham, who also has a construction company, said he was initially “really afraid to even try to get involved” in the marijuana industry based on what happened in other states. But he ultimately decided to apply because of how New York structured its program, saying he’d seen how unfair arrests had become for illegal marijuana possession.

“There have been a lot of issues with law enforcement and young black men when it comes to using marijuana as an excuse to basically interfere with people’s lives,” he said. “This was basically one of those situations that happened — it happened more than once. This is actually a very normal thing in my family.”

Nicholas Corey, who was also selected for one of the state’s first dispensary licenses in Manhattan, said he applied because he “always had a passion for cannabis.”

“I love the idea of ​​being a part of bringing it to our communities in a way that is safe, honorable, and respectful,” he said in an interview.

Corey, who was arrested in 2017 for having cannabis in his car, said he ultimately wanted his storefront to “create a safe environment, an environment that helps change the stigma of cannabis from negative to positive.”

In another first, the New York model also reserves an additional 25 primary dispensary licenses for nonprofits that work with previously incarcerated people. However, these licensees are not eligible to receive funds from the Social Equity Fund.

Among those to receive one of eight nonprofits granted provisional approval this week is Housing Works, a New York City-based organization dedicated to ending homelessness and AIDS.

Charles King, the organisation’s chief executive, said Housing Works has committed to opening a dispensary that will employ people “concerned with justice”. It also plans to launch an apprenticeship program to help these individuals eventually open their own cannabis businesses.

“I think this is kind of the ultimate fulfillment of what the state would like to see happen in terms of community organizations that take on these projects,” he said in an interview.

Meanwhile, LIFE Camp, a New York City-based community organization focused on preventing violence, plans to use the nonprofit’s dispensary license to expand its social justice work, including reinvesting revenue from retail cannabis sales in communities disproportionately affected by drug laws. in the state.

Erica Ford, founder of LifeCamp, said in an interview, “The state has benefited from the destruction of our society, the destruction of individuals from the ‘criminalization’ of selling marijuana and hemp in the 1980s and 1990s.” “Now it’s a multi-billion dollar industry — and you’ve destroyed communities because of it. So it’s the mandate that we’re investing in and helping to rebuild and repair some of those communities, no doubt.”

However, Ford objected to the state’s decision not to extend startup financial support to nonprofit license recipients. She called it “a disservice to the success they want to see from nonprofits.”

King said Housing Works has enough startup capital to move forward with a dispensary and is looking to lease a 4,000-square-foot retail space in lower Manhattan that could open as early as next month.

“We would definitely like to take advantage of the lead time to establish our brand,” he said. “We started with one site, which is all the council will agree to in the first foray. But we’re actually hoping to have at least two, maybe three sites by this time next year, and we’re also looking into the possibility of depreciation on site.”

Meanwhile, LIFE Camp hopes to open a brick-and-mortar dispensary site by the beginning of next year. In the meantime, it’s exploring the possibility of launching delivery sales — an option state regulators said would allow all CAURD licensees to sell cannabis “almost immediately.”

“With all of our dispensary licenses, the delivery business is also allowed,” Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, told reporters Monday, noting that at least one retail location will be open by 2023. “We will be sending out further guidance.” To our office “licensees on how to engage in delivery activity before the retail location becomes available”.

There is a complicating factor: a lawsuit was successful Earlier this month, the state banned licenses in five regions — the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, the Hudson Valley and Brooklyn. The state is fighting ruling, but the finding could delay some areas of the state from opening marijuana stores.

“It’s possible to do that before the end of the year,” said David Feder, a New York-based cannabis business attorney and founder of Weed Law, which represents one of the initial licensees. Although it remains unclear exactly how the state will roll out delivery sales to dispensary licensees.

“People are one pins and needles – because we are so close,” he said.

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