Legal Marijuana: NY unveils retailer application process

People with past marijuana convictions are going to get first dibs on recreational marijuana retailer licenses. Now that it has been a year since New York has officially legalized recreational weed, many say it is "high" time they get the ball "rolling" on these dispensaries.

"We're taking the harder path and it's one that no state has done before," said Chris Alexander, the head of the Office of Cannabis Management.

It's a first-of-its-kind approach that will set New York apart.

People with past marijuana convictions or close family members will be the first group eligible to apply for licenses to run a recreational marijuana dispensary. This will give the state a chance to invest early into communities that were disproportionately impacted by weed being illegal.

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However, they must also show that they have owned and operated a business for at least two years.

The proposed regulation states they must "hold or have held, for a minimum of two years, at least ten percent ownership interest in, and control of, a qualifying business, which means a business that had net profit for at least two of the years the business was in operation."

Jay Czarkowski, a cannabis licensing expert and Founding Partner of Canna Advisors, explained what applicants should look to put forward to set them apart.

"Capital, property, local support," Czarkowski said. "I can tell you this, that if it came down to two social groups, one of which had the support of a local mayor or city council and one that didn't, the group that has secured the local support is going to have the leg up to get that license."

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Gov. Kathy Hochul is proposing a $200 million fund to help these licensees rent retail space and to start up their businesses.

But this would have to be decided in the state budget due on April 1.

In addition, the state is also launching a Farmers First Program, which will give hemp farmers the first chance to grow cannabis for the adult-use market.

The application period opens on March 15 and closes June 30.

"Farmers that make up the backbone of this industry will be able to get started this season growing cannabis that will be supplying the adult-use market this year," Alexander said.

But Sen. George Borrello argues that the state's marijuana bill does not disqualify someone with a past drug-related conviction, such as someone selling heroin or meth, from applying to operate a dispensary.

Cannabis ex-cons will get dibs on NY sales permits

"You're basically saying to someone in an all-cash business, because keep in mind marijuana is an all-cash business, we're going to take career criminals and we're going to give them a dispensary license," Borrello said.

Yet even though it's not in the bill, head of the Office of Cannabis Management Chris Alexander says under the regulations put forward on Thursday, certain convictions can exclude someone and they will still have a good conduct standard for those who apply.

"Those other offenses, however, can result in the exclusion of an individual from moving forward in this program," Alexander clarified. "As you will note in the regulations, there remains a good conduct standard that will allow for the office to determine eligible applicants that can move forward."

These regulations are not set in stone just yet, they still have to go through a 60-day public comment period.

It is likely that these dispensary licenses will not be distributed until late summer or early fall.