With New York state regulators set to begin accepting applications for the state’s first adult-use retailer licenses this week, the mayor of New York City on Monday announced the launch of a new program to promote cannabis industry equity by supporting entrepreneurs most impacted by the drug war.
People who have been directly harmed by cannabis criminalization will be first in line to obtain conditional adult-use retailer licenses, with an online application portal for justice-involved people opening on Thursday.
At a press conference at Medgar Evers College, Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced the launch of Cannabis NYC, which is being established under the city’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to help “light up our economy.” The effort aims to initially help would-be dispensary operators complete the licensing application process, but is also promising to provide “support beyond the license” by connecting “aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs to no-cost services, along with technical assistance, to support successful businesses,” a press release says.
“Cannabis NYC will plant the seeds for the economy of tomorrow by helping New Yorkers apply for licenses and understand how to open and successfully run a business, while simultaneously rolling equity into our economy by giving those who have been justice-involved and those with a cannabis conviction a chance to succeed,” the mayor said. “This is about creating good jobs, successful small businesses and finally delivering equity to communities harmed by the War on Drugs.”
The initiative is meant to guide the industry in the direction of equity as it evolves, and it will also provide technical assistance and other services to license applicants. The program’s launch is timely given the imminent launch of the conditional retailer application portal, which will be open until late September.
Cannabis NYC is about creating jobs, successful small businesses, and bringing equity to communities that were harmed by criminalization for many, many years.
NYers can learn more by calling: 888-SBS-4NYC or online at https://t.co/a1RYsF8shO
Let’s light up our economy, NYC! pic.twitter.com/qXfZIE7h2L
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) August 22, 2022
The state Cannabis Control Board (CCB), which also approved the state’s first round of recreational cannabis processor licenses last week, has encouraged eligible retailer applicants to start collecting the documentation they need to take advantage of the equity application opportunity.
In order to qualify for a conditional adult-use marijuana retail license, applicants must have faced a conviction for a cannabis-related offense prior to the enactment of legalization in the state, or have a direct relative with such a conviction, and they must also have experience operating a qualifying business.
Regulators have also expanded the definition of a qualifying “justice-involved” individual to include people who were arrested for marijuana but convicted for a lesser offense, which advocates view as a positive step that will broader the applicant pool.
“Cannabis NYC is ready to help New Yorkers succeed in this budding industry,” SBS Commissioner Kevin Kim said. “New York City and state will work hand-in-hand to deliver on our shared social equity goals, support the transition of legacy operators to the legal market, and turn the page on the War on Drugs.”
It’s time to light up our economy. Join us at Medgar Evers College for an announcement on cannabis in New York City. https://t.co/wMzx34YlgR
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) August 22, 2022
The first phase of Cannabis NYC will focus on application assistance for prospective retailers who are eligible as justice-involved people. That will involve answering questions about application requirements, hosting educational webinars and providing hands-on assistance with application submissions during the one-month window that ends on September 26.
As the market matures, the program is expected to provide a “broad suite of business and technical support services tailored to the industry, as well as networking opportunities and efforts to establish Cannabis NYC as a global brand,” the mayor’s office said. Looking at ways to expand access to capital for would-be marijuana entrepreneurs will also be an objective.
— NYCSmallBusiness (@NYC_SBS) August 22, 2022
“Building on our work in Albany, creating the medical cannabis program, and now the birth of adult use will be complicated for many,” state Sen. Diane Savino (D) said. “It is vitally important that we help entrepreneurs navigate the process and stand up the legal regulated market and send the message that we will not ignore the illicit market.”
Kaliko Castille of the Minority Cannabis Business Association said that ensuring equity in New York’s marijuana market is “no small feat and we are proud to stand in support of Mayor Adams and the Cannabis NYC initiative as it provides tangible resources for those seeking to enter the cannabis industry but have been historically turned away due to lack of access.”
(Disclosure: Castille supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
Meanwhile, CCB has also been approving numerous conditional cultivator applications, which are being granted to existing hemp businesses in the state. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a bill to create the conditional cultivation licenses in February.
Last week, regulators approved 19 more cultivator cultivator licenses, for a total of 242.
With respect to retailers, Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) Executive Director Chris Alexander said last month that the OCM diligently reviewed and responded to public comments on the proposed rules for conditional retailers, but there’s still been some frustration among stakeholders who feel that the input was not thoughtfully incorporated.
For what it’s worth, a poll found that most New Yorkers voters are against that proposal to prioritize retail licenses for justice-involved people.
Separately, OCM also recently publicized dozens of cease and desist letters that they have sent to businesses accused of illegally selling marijuana as the state prepares to launch its adult-use market.
But there’s been skepticism about the accuracy of the office’s enforcement targets. Some businesses that were named as operating illicit marijuana shops say they never received the notice; others, including one event and catering business, say that were wrongfully targeted, denying that they’ve been involved in cannabis sales.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess and publicly consume cannabis, as well as gift marijuana to other adults as long as they aren’t being compensated.
In June, CCB also approved a series of proposed rules for marijuana packaging, labeling, advertising and testing requirements.
During April’s CCB meeting, regulators also approved revised regulations to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants for personal use following a public comment period on initial rules that were proposed last year.
In general, the rule would allow registered patients and caregivers to grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature. They could possess up to five pounds of cannabis derived from those plants, which is consistent with the state’s adult-use legalization law.
Meanwhile, New York lawmakers recently sent a budget proposal to the governor’s desk that includes provisions to let marijuana businesses take state tax deductions that are available to other industries despite an ongoing federal ban on cannabis. That was signed into law.
Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) filed a standalone bill in December seeking a similar carve-out for the state’s burgeoning cannabis market. Assemblymember Donna Lupardo (D) followed suit in her chamber. Cooney also filed a bill in May to allow regulators to disclose certain information about cannabis licensees to financial institutions to promote marijuana banking.
Hochul has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.
The governor released a State of the State book in January that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.
That proposal was also cited in the governor’s executive budget, which was released in January. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
Hochul said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”
OCM has also been putting out PSAs to promote public education about the marijuana policy change, including a first-of-its-kind taxpayer-funded marijuana ad that aired in most of New York during an NBA Finals game last month. The PSA boldly addressed the racially discriminatory harms of cannabis criminalization and highlighted steps that state regulators are taking to right the wrongs of prohibition.
CCB also wants the opportunity to showcase its marijuana PSA campaign on the social media app TikTok, but it was told by the company previously that it could not use the platform because of its existing ban on the use of the word “cannabis.” The department recently sent a letter to TikTok, requesting a policy change for government marijuana-related ads that concern public education.
Here are some other ways that New York lawmakers and regulators are working to promote drug policy reform as the state prepares to implement retail marijuana sales:
Last month, Hochul announced that the state had awarded $5 million in funding to community colleges to support the development and improvement of courses and programs specifically meant to help people secure jobs in the marijuana industry.
The New York Senate approved a bill in June that would require public health insurance programs to cover medical marijuana expenses and clarify that private insurers are allowed to do the same.
Both chambers of the state legislature have passed a measure to encourage businesses to use hemp materials for packaging, construction and other industrial purposes.
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The state Department of Labor separately announced in recent guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana. Even prior to the enactment of legalization, New York City officials had established a local ban on pre-employment drug testing for cannabis.
A recent legal directive from the New York City Law Department (NYCLD) has put police and firefighter drug testing policy in the spotlight after a document that was leaked from the New York Police Department (NYPD) signaled that officers would no longer be subject to pre-employment, random or scheduled screening for cannabis because of the legal analysis.
A firefighters union claimed credit for the new directive, saying that it was responsive to inquires that it made to the city.
Separately, Adams says he’s looking into the idea of authorizing marijuana to be grown in greenhouses on the rooftops of public housing buildings—an ambitious proposal that’s unlikely to sit well with the federal government, which provides funding to support the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA).
A New York senator filed a bill in May that would legalize what would essentially be licensed community marijuana gardens for people who aren’t able to cultivate cannabis at their own homes.
Also that month, a New York Assembly committee advanced a bill to establish a statewide safe consumption site program, allowing regulators to authorize facilities where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill last year that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Another state legislator filed a bill in December to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes and establish facilities where the psychedelic could be grown and administered to patients.