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N.Y. to give first recreational marijuana retail licenses to people with weed-related convictions

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

ALBANY — New Yorkers with past pot convictions will be first in line to join the state’s budding recreational marijuana industry.

The first batch of retail licenses to sell adult-use cannabis in the Empire State will go to people convicted of weed-related crimes before the drug was legalized, or their relatives, according to regulations adopted by the Cannabis Control Board on Thursday.

“I’d just like to underscore how significant these proposed regulations are,” board member Jen Metzger said. “They really address the spirit of the (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act) that is being implemented, combined with the social equity funds. I’m just really thrilled to see this happening and just want to thank everyone for their work on this.”

Under the state’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative, between 100 and 200 dispensary licenses could be issued by this fall, with sales allowed before the end of the year. Six months earlier than projected, according to Gov. Hochul.

New York hemp farmers will also get the first crack at producing the cannabis products available for sale.

There are a few restrictions for retail licenses, as applicants must prove that they have operated a profitable business in the state, and convictions for other offenses could block their path to selling pot legally.

Applications for hemp farmers seeking to grow adult-use cannabis in the state will be accepted starting March 15.

The five-member board voted unanimously in favor of the regulations, which will now be subject to a period of public comment.

“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” Hochul said. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind.”

Officials are tailoring additional guidelines to assist those most impacted by the enforcement of past pot laws and ensure larger, multi-state operators don’t flood the market as they have in other places where recreational cannabis is legal.

“We aren’t stopping here, and work is already underway across all license types to open access to capital and develop supporting networks to build an equitable New York Cannabis Industry and set up our small businesses for long-term success,” said Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander.

Hochul earlier this year proposed $200 million in startup grants and loans for women or minorities, struggling farmers, disabled veterans, and people from minority communities disproportionately impacted by past pot policing looking to open stores and other related businesses.

The state’s goal is to allot 50% of licenses to applicants in those categories.

Sen. George Borrello (R-Chautauqua County) slammed the new rules, arguing that they reward career criminals.

“The idea that we can turn career criminals into upstanding business people by giving them taxpayer-funded dispensaries in an all-cash industry is utter madness,” he said. “In the end, New York’s taxpayers will be the collateral damage in this scheme.”

State GOP chairman Nick Langworthy likewise panned the pot proposals and gave a glimpse of how Republicans will likely weaponize the issue in the upcoming election.

“Classic Albany where everything is a rigged process driven by special interests rather than merit,” he said. “Under Democrat rule, drug dealers get lucrative contracts and law-abiding small business owners are treated like criminals. This madness must stop in the next election.”

Mayor Adams voiced support for the new regulations, but said he will talk to Hochul and other officials about ensuring moneyed corporate entities don’t attempt to use ex-convicts by bringing them in as “partners” to win the licenses for themselves.

“I don’t recall one corporate executive being stopped on Tremont Avenue and having someone going through their pocket and pulling out a joint and then locking them up,” he said during a press conference in the South Bronx. “They were not front in line in the perp walk. They should not be front in line in benefitting from the cannabis industry.”

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, enacted last year, legalized the consumption of marijuana in New York and set the groundwork for the adult-use market, which is on track to become a billion-dollar-a-year industry.

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