New York approves first round of retail cannabis licenses

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Cannabis plant in Hopewell Junction, NY. (WAMC/Ashley Hupfl)

(WAMC) – The New York state Office of Cannabis Management’s Control Board has officially approved the first 36 retail marijuana licenses.

Meeting Monday, the board approved 28 business applicants and eight non-profit applications from a pool of more than 900. The first licenses are going to applicants who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense before the law went into effect and also showed they had run a successful business. OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander says more licenses will be approved soon.

“The applications for the conditional adult use retail dispensary licenses are the final step in the supply chain we’ve been building since March when we first announced the Seeding Opportunity Initiative. Already, family farmers across New York have grown and harvested the first adult use cannabis in New York and our processors are already hard at work transforming that harvest into a wide variety of products.”

New York will issue a total of 150 retail licenses. OCM has repeatedly said its goal is to have stores up and running by the end of the year. The agency was facing mounting pressure to issue the licenses after farmers harvested their cannabis plants before the winter season, but had nowhere to sell it. Speaking to WAMC in September during a tour of cannabis farm Mystic Meadows in Hopewell Junction, co-founder Ryan McGrath said, if stored properly using cultivator storage bags, their crop can be kept fresh until February at the latest.

“When we go into what we call smokeable flour, we’ll actually we’ll take it a step further than this. Like Alex mentioned, we’ll bucket and then we’ll actually then take the bud the flower itself and trim that. And then we put it in basically the black and yellow totes that you would get at Home Depot or any other store and those are airtight, we line those with with a plastic liner and they’re held airtight there, until they’re ready to go. From there you can you can even expand where they have like nitrogen sealers and different different models and methods in storage.”

Monday’s meeting follows a lawsuit filed earlier this month that argues the state’s law violates constitutional commerce protections because it favors New York residents over out-of-state residents. Similar lawsuits filed in other states like Maine were ultimately successful.

The lawsuit is holding up 63 of the eventual 150 licenses, including some in the Hudson Valley. Because of the lawsuit, the board is not yet approving retail licenses in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, western New York, the mid-Hudson Valley and Brooklyn. Democratic state Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo said she is confident the state will win the case.

While equity is being tried in court, it’s kind of sad we’re into 2022 and equity has to be on trial when everybody should be pushing towards equity. But, I know we’ll win this case and when we do I look forward to those lists that include some other people, particularly those from those regions, including those from my beloved Buffalo that were left out.”

The board also approved a warning label that will appear on the packaging of cannabis products. Some revisions to the original proposal, such easing rules to allow for the label to appear on the back of the product, were OKed.

After approving the retail licenses, the board said it is considering licenses to allow for the delivery and on-site consumption of cannabis. During the September tour, McGrath (or Keenan) said they would be interested in creating something similar to wine tastings at vineyards.

“Kind of like a farm brewery-type situation where you grow it on the farm, you consume it on the farm, you can sell it on the farm. it’s kind of becomes like a tourist destination, so, I mean, that’s something that could be on the horizon for us, too.”

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