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New York Is Opening the Floodgates for Weed Licenses

Yeah, even for medical cannabis companies.

10:08 AM EDT on September 14, 2023

A desolate shot of Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, New York.
(Hell Gate)

Two and a half years after the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalized recreational weed in New York and one embattled (to put it nicely) rollout later, state cannabis regulators have finally opened up business licensing to all applicants, beyond even the groups that were meant to receive priority in the original law. Starting October 4, anyone and everyone will have 60 days to submit an application for one of eight lanes in the legal weed business on both the supply and retail sides, including cultivation, distribution, delivery service, and running a brick-and-mortar dispensary. But not only that—beginning in December, medical cannabis companies will be allowed to open up to three retail locations, after paying a steep licensing fee.

This is, to put it mildly, a huge development. Will this move make the cannabis industry in New York better? Well, from a sheer numbers perspective, it's hard to imagine it getting much worse. So far, the era of legal weed in New York—launched from a bill written with an emphasis on creating social equity in the business—has been marked by a booming illicit market, broken promises from top government officials like Governor Hochul about the number of legal dispensaries that would open, lost tax revenue, and, finally, the lawsuit that paused retail licensing entirely by asking a judge to place an injunction on the allegedly unconstitutional CAURD licenses reserved for people with cannabis-related drug charges, or with an immediate family member who had them. 

When we spoke to New York Cannabis Insider's publisher Brad Racino back in August, as the same judge refused to grant exemptions from the injunction to a few almost-ready cannabis businesses in need of a license, he emphasized that the cannabis industry is already full of enough hurdles without the regulatory challenges that have been thrown at people trying to enter the legal industry in New York State. "Whether it's banking or insurance or security or whatever, it's already a monumentally difficult task," he said. "Then you add in all these other things, these different agencies, these egos, these problems foreseen, unforeseen. It's just a tornado, a disaster." 

The primary plaintiff in the lawsuit against the OCM's CAURD licensing program, Carmine Fiore, told the New York Post that "it's about time" state regulators opened up licensing, and added that the original regulations "gave the justice-involved an unfair advantage." But with only 23 retail cannabis businesses open statewide after two and a half years competing with thousands of illegal dispensaries in New York City alone, it's hard to imagine anyone got a real leg up in this scenario.

At the Cannabis Control Board meeting on Tuesday where the new set of regulations were voted into law, prospective cannabis business owners, including some CAURD licensees, expressed concerns that opening up licensing to all applicants would tank any hope of building an equitable industry in New York. According to a report from New York Cannabis Insider, there were particular concerns about medical cannabis companies worth millions of dollars moving in while the state's industry is still nascent. "Many of us gave up other real opportunities to pursue a framework that has been halted through no fault of our own," one CAURD licensee said during a public comment period after the regulations passed. "How can we…sit back and welcome a handful of out-of-state 'cannabros' who will destroy our economy before it's even had a chance to take off?" another cannabis business owner asked. "How is that OK? It doesn’t seem like social equity to me." 

Here's to hoping, from someone who doesn't want to shop at MedMen, that cannabis regulators have some kind of answer to that question.

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