New York state is expected to dole out the first marijuana licenses to retailers next week, the latest step in an arduous process steeped in legal red tape but one that moves the Empire State closer to capitalizing on the economic potential that other states have reaped from recreational pot sales in recent years.
The state cannabis commission's Harlem offices on 125th Street will be the site for the start of Monday's distribution, News 4 has learned, though that doesn't mean New Yorkers will be able to visit those sites the same day -- or week. Once a business or nonprofit gets a license, it still has a round of paperwork to complete, so we're not looking at any dispensaries opening for retail sales in New York until December, at the earliest.
That's not far off, though.
It wasn't immediately clear how many total licenses would be awarded statewide, nor how many of those licenses would be reserved for retailers in the five boroughs.
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The developments come a week after a federal judge temporarily blocked New York from issuing recreational pot dispensary licenses in Brooklyn and parts of upstate while a legal challenge to the selection process is considered.
New York still plans to begin adult marijuana sales by the end of the year, starting with shop owners with past pot convictions or their relatives. State lawmakers designed the legal market to make sure the first retailers were people directly affected by drug law enforcement.
The challenge comes from Variscite NY One, which claims the state's selection process favors New York residents over out-of-state residents in violation of constitutional interstate commerce protections.
The judge's order temporarily bars the state from issuing retail licenses for the five regions of the state Variscite selected in its business application: Brooklyn, central New York, the Finger Lakes, the mid-Hudson region and western New York. It does not cover nine other regions of the state, including the rest of the city.
The ruling affects up to 63 of the 150 possible business licenses.
Officials at the Office of Cannabis Management said last week its board will still consider license applications later this month for up to 150 businesses and individuals, along with applications for up to 25 nonprofit licenses.
The office remains committed to “including those impacted by the state’s enforcement of cannabis prohibition in the market that we are building and we are additionally committed to getting New York’s cannabis supply chain fully operational,” spokesman Freeman Klopott said in an email.
Applicants in the initial round had to demonstrate “a significant presence in New York state.” While Variscite's majority stakeholder has a cannabis conviction, it was under Michigan law. And though the corporation is organized under New York law, its business principal does not meet the significant presence requirement, according to court papers.