NY accepting applications to sell recreational pot

New York began accepting applications Thursday to open its first legal recreational pot shops, taking a novel approach by reserving the initial roughly 150 retail dispensary licenses for people with past pot convictions or their relatives.

The application process is a key step toward opening one of the country's most hotly awaited legal cannabis markets, but there's no exact date yet for sales to begin. Except for California, New York is the most populous among the 19 U.S. states that have legalized possession and use of marijuana for adults.

New York officials have emphasized that they want to make sure the new industry provides opportunity to people who bore the brunt of drug law enforcement, which fell disproportionately on Black and Latino people.

The state announced this winter that the first round of retail cannabis licenses would go to businesses and nonprofit groups with a leader who was convicted of a marijuana offense or has a close relation who was.

It's a "unique strategy that we’re implementing to try to make sure that those most impacted have real opportunity to participate here," state Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander said at a virtual news conference.

"It's really about writing a wrong," he added.

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First-round license requirements also include experience running a business that was profitable for at least two years.

Other would-be dispensary proprietors will be able to apply later, with a focus on people of color, women, struggling farmers, disabled veterans and people from communities that endured heavy pot policing.

New York aims to provide 50% of its total licenses to such applicants. The state also has pledged to establish a $200 million fund for startup grants, loans and other assistance for them.