New Yorkers convicted of marijuana will get first retail licenses

ALBANY, NY – New York State will soon announce plans to open its first retail marijuana outlets by the end of the year, giving applicants access to stocks of the drug grown by local farmers and offering sweeteners as new showcases leased by the state.

The only problem? To be one of the first licensed retailers in the state, you or a family member must have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense.

The policy, to be announced Thursday by Governor Kathy Hochul, is part of a concerted effort to ensure that the first business owners in the state’s projected billion-dollar marijuana industry will be members of communities that have been impacted by the nation’s decades. war on drugs.

By favoring people with marijuana convictions and preparing their businesses for turnkey sales, New York appears to be trying to avoid the pitfalls encountered in some other states, which have seen nominees for “social equity” and d other mom-and-pop marijuana companies struggling. such as lack of capital or competition from deep-pocketed corporate operations.

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, said that by focusing early on “those who would otherwise have been left behind,” New York is in a “position to do something that doesn’t had never been done before”.

To that end, Ms. Hochul has proposed — and the legislature appears likely to pass — to include $200 million in this year’s budget to support fledgling businesses, money that would be spent finding, securing and renovate retailer windows. This need for state help is particularly acute in New York, where house prices have rebounded as the worst of the Covid pandemic has receded.

Under legislation passed last March that allowed possession and recreational use of marijuana in limited amounts by adults, half of all marijuana-related licensesincluding those aimed at producers and other parties in the supply chainare for women, minorities, distressed farmers, war veterans, and “people who have lived in communities disproportionately affected” by the war on drugs.

In New York, black and Latino residents have for years been significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana than non-Hispanic white people.

Mr. Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 licenses to be issued to people convicted of a marijuana-related offense before the drug was legalized, or those who have “a relative , guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with marijuana. conviction.

Mr. Alexander also said his office would assess applicants on their business plans and retail experience.

The resulting dispensaries will be the first to open in the state by the end of the year, Alexander said, although more could open soon after, possibly in early 2023. The state has not set a limit on the number of retail licenses. it plans to issue; state officials said it would depend on market demand.

The proposed regulations were posted Wednesday afternoon on the Cannabis Management Office website; the state Cannabis Control Commission is expected to meet Thursday to review them, with approval expected.

The first wave of applicants will likely include people like Baron Fajardo, a Harlem resident who plans to apply for a retail license. He was 16 when police found him smoking marijuana in his hallway and arrested him. Half a dozen more pot arrests followed as he went from smoker to drug dealer.

He said it was a blessing that New York planned to give people like him the opportunity to leverage their experiences in a legal way that would allow them to support their families and start building wealth. generational.

“As a person you feel depressed, a bit defeated, like ‘Oh I have a stain on my name,'” said Mr Fajardo, now 34. “Now this stain is actually the same thing that can help you.”

Mr Alexander said he believes giving so-called “equity entrepreneurs” a chance to woo customers before more established cannabis companies – including those currently operating medical marijuana facilities – start to competing with them would help them succeed.

“I could press the green button right now and have 40 dispensaries online,” Alexander said, speaking of existing medical dispensaries in the state. “But instead, we decided that those most affected actually had the space and the real trail to participate in a meaningful way.”

The state also hopes that some in the existing illegal marijuana market — sometimes called “legacy” applicants — can be persuaded to apply for licenses instead, as some may be considered equity applicants.

Early reviews of the plan seemed positive, especially among those who were appalled by the state’s relatively languid approach to legalizing the drug and creating a retail industry.

Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that lobbies for more liberal drug laws, said New York appears to be learning from other states where promises of social equity “don’t materialize. not always in the way people wanted.”

“I think they try to solve the hard problems first, and I think that’s admirable,” she said, noting the need for new business capital. “If you were the first to be injured, you should be the first to benefit.”

State Senator Liz Krueger, an Upper East Side Democrat, said she expected the $200 million to be included in the budget, due in April.

“We want them to succeed, which means we have to help some of them,” she said, adding that signing leases could be a tricky proposition for dealers who “were selling illegally behind a building. until recently”.

“They might not have all that bank account and paperwork and lawyers that a real estate agent would want to deal with,” Ms. Krueger said.

Preparation for New York’s dive into recreational marijuana will begin next week, as the state plans to open its application process for growers, who will grow the drug on farms across the state and supply their products to new retailers, ensuring farmers have buyers when the market opens.

While recreational marijuana was legalized in New York last year, in a decision that included the overturning of numerous previous convictions, the rollout of retail sales has been slow, allowing some entrepreneurs tribal lands near the Canadian border to set up unlicensed dispensaries. Neighboring states like Massachusetts, which began selling marijuana in 2018, have begun attracting eager New York customers in the meantime.

In addition to the belief-based criteria, Mr. Alexander said his office would assess the likelihood of candidates running successful businesses — a reminder that the state has both ideological and revenue goals to achieve. Forty percent of the tax revenue from the new dispensaries goes to drug-affected communities.

Still, he was confident there were plenty of eligible applicants in New York City, noting that heavy-handed marijuana control had ensnared hundreds of thousands of residents.

“We are convinced that these people exist,” Mr. Alexander said. “We know a lot of people have gone on to do great things,” despite past drug charges.

Other states have tried to emphasize fairness in their markets. But in California, for example, those efforts have been complicated by strict regulations, high taxes and high barriers to entry that have left the state years later struggling to quell a thriving black market in untested and untaxed weed.

And in New Jersey, social equity applicants hoping to take advantage of a law similar to New York’s have struggled to raise capital and secure leases — part of the impetus behind the spending 200 million New York dollars.

News of the governor’s plan drew a sharp rebuke from State Senator Rob Ortt, the Minority Leader, who criticized Democrats who control Albany for handing out “hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to those who broke the law”.

“This is just another reminder that Albany is out of touch with the needs of law-abiding New Yorkers who pay their taxes and do the right thing,” Ortt said in a statement.

Mr Alexander dismissed criticism of the decision to favor people with prior criminal records, saying the legislature made its intentions clear when it passed the law last year and noting that the state routinely funds economic development in a range of industries.

State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, House Majority Leader, said the decision to prioritize those with marijuana convictions was crucial to ensuring the industry is not dominated by conglomerates outside of the state.

“We’re trying to do what no other state has done, and that’s focus on their people,” said Ms Peoples-Stokes, an architect of the law. “It’s critical because it’s a huge industry that’s going to grow our economy a lot, and I think it makes sense to let that growth start with New Yorkers.”

Even people without marijuana-related convictions appear to support the state’s plan. Lulu Tsui plans to apply for a license to open a dispensary in Brooklyn. Ms. Tsui expects to qualify as a social equity candidate because she is female and Chinese-American, although she will come behind those who hold such beliefs.

But that’s how it should be, she said.

“They should receive reparations,” she said. “Their blood, their sweat, their sacrifice, time precedes everyone else.”

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