New York doubles number of retail marijuana licenses to 300

Cannabis products are seen on display at Housing Works Cannabis Co in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

New York is doubling the number of licenses it's awarding for a first round of legal marijuana shops, regulators announced, though only a fraction of the dispensaries already authorized have opened so far and a court ruling has put licensing on hold in some areas.

Nearly two years after legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use, the state continues working to get its potentially large legal market into high gear. 

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So far, 66 dispensary licenses have been awarded, and four shops have opened – three of them in New York City. The first legal sales were in late December.

In the meantime, unauthorized pot shops and trucks have sprouted all over the city and state. Officials have been scrambling to crack down on them.

The state initially planned to award 150 dispensary licenses in a first batch reserved for nonprofits or for people with both business experience and a personal or family history of marijuana convictions. 

After getting over 900 applications, the state cannabis office now intends to give out 300 such licenses, Executive Director Chris Alexander told the state Cannabis Control Board on Thursday.

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"With this expansion, more entrepreneurs will be able to participate in the first wave of this industry," board Chair Tremaine Wright said in a statement after the meeting.

However, about 40% of the proposed licenses are allocated for parts of the state where the state can't issue them at the moment, under a November ruling from a federal judge. 

The decision froze licensing in certain areas during an ongoing lawsuit over license rules regarding applicants' ties to New York.

The state is appealing the decision, which applies in Brooklyn, central New York, the Finger Lakes, the mid-Hudson region and western New York.

JENNIFER PELTZ, with the Associated Press, helped contribute to this report.