New York To Allow Those With Cannabis Convictions To Open Pot Shops Before Big Businesses Enter Market

As part of its plans to usher in its first marijuana retail outlets, New York regulators are set to approve a set of rules that will prioritize people with prior marijuana convictions or those whose family members have been harmed by criminalization. The move will place them in the first round of adult-use cannabis retail license holders—ahead of existing medical cannabis businesses. 

The policy is part of a concerted effort to assure that early business owners in New York’s projected billion-dollar marijuana industry will be members of communities that have been affected by the nation’s decades-long war on drugs. The policy sets New York apart from other legal cannabis states that promised equity but rarely delivered.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is expected to announce the plan on Thursday, reported The New York Times. Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) executive director Chris Alexander told the Times that he expects upwards of 200 “justice-involved” applicants to receive priority licenses under the proposal, with retailers potentially coming online by the year’s end.

The proposal to create the conditional licenses will be taken up by the New York State Cannabis Control Board (CCB) on Thursday. 

Response From Advocates

Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said that New York seems to be learning from other states where promises of social equity were made but not always kept.

“I think they’re trying to solve the hard things first, and I think that’s admirable,” Frederique said, reported the Times. “If you were the first to get hurt, you should be the first to benefit.”

In January, Gov. Hochul pledged $200 million in this year’s budget to support fledgling businesses and create “opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.” Such financial support is especially critical in places like New York City where finding reasonably priced storefronts for retailers is no easy task. 

Under the marijuana legalization law passed in March 2021, half of all marijuana-related licenses — including for growers and other parts of the supply chain — were earmarked for women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and individuals living in communities disproportionally impacted by the drug war.

In New York, like most states, Blacks and Latinos have been (and still are) far more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people though all three groups consume at similar rates.

Photo taken by author. 

 


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