NY issues first round of retail licenses for recreational marijuana sales

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

New York issued its first round of licenses for the legal sale of recreational marijuana on Nov. 21.

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management granted retail licenses to 28 private businesses and eight nonprofit organizations across the state to legally sell marijuana. The Harlem-based office chose 36 dispensaries out of a pool of 903 applicants.

The move comes nearly 20 months after the state legalized recreational marijuana usage among adults. Under the former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state sought to generate $350 million in revenue from taxes and create 60,000 jobs.

“I know it changes everything,” license recipient Matthew Robinson told PIX11 News. “It doesn’t feel real … There’s just nothing that can explain it.”

The state sought to use the licensing program to correct previous incidents with individuals who were arrested for marijuana-related reasons back when the substance was still illegal. The Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program prioritizes issuing licenses to these people.

Robinson said police detained him while looking for a person involved in a nearby fight. The Albany-based business owner was not involved in it, but he was still charged for possessing marijuana. He said that this is “definitely justice served.”

License recipients are eligible for loans from the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund. Money provided may be used to construct storefronts and pay fees that emerge while opening businesses.

“This is just the beginning of a multibillion-dollar opportunity for our city,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a press release. “I am proud that the first legal retail sales will be made by entrepreneurs who were most harmed by previous cannabis criminalization.”

Within the city, seven licensees are from Manhattan, six licensees are from Queens, three licensees are from the Bronx and two licensees are from Staten Island.

Businesses in Kings County — which is coextensive with Brooklyn — were left out of the license distribution round, for now. A federal judge blocked applicants in the state’s most populated county and other northern counties after siding with a plaintiff who filed a lawsuit against the licensing process. The ruling affected 63 applicants.

Variscite NY One claimed the state discriminated against applicants who live outside the state but do business in it. A majority of the organizations are owned by Kenneth Gay, who was convicted on marijuana-related charges in Michigan, where he lives.

Adams unveiled the Cannabis NYC program on Aug. 22 at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College. The program is aimed at generating economic growth from the retail marijuana industry and providing entrepreneurial opportunities to individuals charged for marijuana-related reasons in the past.

The program launched applications for retail licenses on Aug. 25. Adams said the office will hold a series of workshops to go over proposed regulations and welcome public feedback to the state’s cannabis management office.

“My administration looks forward to supporting New York City’s first adult-use retail dispensaries and helping them grow from seed to shop window,” the mayor added.

The state became the first to issue licenses to nonprofit groups, such as HousingWorks and The DOE Fund. It is unknown how the federal tax status of the organizations will change while cannabis is still illegal on the federal level.

As New York makes way for legal sales of marijuana, there is also a push against businesses selling the substance without licenses.

“We’ve put out requests to cease and desist,” Chris Alexander, who is the executive director of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, told NBC4 New York News. “Particularly the storefront and the trucks.”

Alexander expects marijuana to go on sale legally before the end of the year.

The city’s retail marijuana industry is projected to generate $1.3 billion in sales by next year.