ALBANY, NY — New York state will soon announce plans to roll out first marijuana outlets by the end of the year, giving applicants access to stocks of the drug grown by local farmers and offering sweeteners like new storefronts leased by the state.
The only catch? To be one of the state’s first licensed retailers, you or a member of your family must have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense.
The policy, to be announced by Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday, is part of a concerted effort to ensure early entrepreneurs in the state’s $1 billion marijuana industry, which is projected to bring in $1 billion, will join communities. affected by the decades-long war on drugs.
By favoring people with marijuana beliefs and preparing their businesses for turnkey sales, New York seems to be trying to avoid the pitfalls found in some other states where designated “social equality” applicants and other mothers -and-pop marijuana companies grapple with issues such as a lack of capital or competition from deep-rooted business operations.
Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, said that by targeting early on “those who would otherwise have been left behind,” New York was “in a position to do something that has not been done before.” done”.
To that end, Ms. Hochul proposed — and the legislature appears likely to succeed — to include $200 million in this year’s budget to support the fledgling businesses, money that would be spent on finding, securing and renovating storefronts for retailers. . That need for state aid is especially acute in New York City, where real estate prices have soared as the worst of the Covid pandemic has abated.
Under the law passed last March permitting the possession and recreational use of marijuana in limited quantities by adults, half of all marijuana-related licenses † including those for growers and other parts of the supply chain † are for women, minorities, distressed farmers, veterans and “individuals who have lived in communities disproportionately affected” by the drug war.
For years, black and Hispanic residents in New York City have been much more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white, non-Hispanic people.
Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 permits would go to people convicted of a marijuana-related offense before the drug was legalized, or those who have “a parent, guardian, child, spouse, or dependent” with a marijuana conviction.
Mr Alexander also said his office would assess applicants based on their business plans and retail experience.
The resulting pharmacies will be the first to open in the state by the end of the year, Mr Alexander said, though some others may open soon after, perhaps early 2023. The state has not put a limit on the number of retail licenses it plans to issue; state officials said it will depend on market demand.
The proposed scheme was published on Wednesday afternoon on the website of the cannabis management service; the state’s Cannabis Control Board is expected to meet on Thursday to discuss them, with approval expected.
The first wave of applicants will likely be people like Baron Fajardo, a Harlem resident who plans to apply for a retail permit. He was 16 when police found him with marijuana in his hallway and arrested him. Half a dozen other pot arrests followed as he went from smoker to dealer.
He said it was a blessing that New York planned to give people like him the opportunity to legally build on their experiences so they could provide for their families and start building generational wealth.
“As a person, you feel dejected, a bit defeated, like, ‘Oh, I have a stain on my name,’” said Mr Fajardo, now 34. “Well, that stain is basically the same thing that can help you.”
Alexander said he thought it would help them succeed by giving so-called “equity entrepreneurs” a chance to lure customers before more established cannabis companies – including those currently running medical marijuana facilities – start competing with them.
“I could hit the green button right now and have 40 pharmacies online,” said Mr. Alexander, speaking of the state’s existing medical pharmacies. “But instead, we decided that the people most affected actually have the space and the real runway to participate in a meaningful way.”
The state also hopes that some in the existing illicit marijuana market — otherwise known as “legacy” candidates — can be persuaded to apply for licenses instead, as some may be considered stock applicants.
Initial reviews of the plan seemed positive, especially among those baffled by the state’s relatively hesitant approach to both legalize the drug and set up retail outlets.
Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that lobbies for more liberal drug laws, said New York seemed to be learning lessons from other states where social justice promises “don’t always work out the way people want.”
“I think they try to sort out the hard stuff first, and I think that’s admirable,” she said, pointing to the capital needs of new companies. “If you’re the first to get hurt, you have to be the first to benefit.”
State Senator Liz Krueger, an Upper East Side Democrat, said she expected the $200 million to be budgeted in April.
“We want them to be successful, which means we have to help some of them,” she said, adding that signing leases can be a tricky proposition for dealers who “until recently sold illegally behind a building.”
“They may not have all that bank account and paperwork and lawyers that a real estate person would want to deal with,” said Ms. Krueger.
Preparations for New York’s plunge into recreational marijuana will begin next week, as the state plans to open the application process to growers, who will grow the drug on farms across the state and supply their products to the new retailers, marking guarantees farmers have buyers when the market opens.
While recreational marijuana was legalized in New York last year, dropping many previous convictions, the rollout of retail sales has been slow — allowing some entrepreneurs in tribal lands near the Canadian border to set up unlicensed dispensaries. Neighboring countries such as Massachusetts, which began selling marijuana in 2018, have begun to attract eager customers from New York in the meantime.
In addition to the conviction-based criteria, Mr. Alexander that his office would weigh applicants’ likelihood of running successful businesses — a reminder that the state must meet both ideological and revenue goals. Forty percent of the tax revenues from the new pharmacies go to drug-affected communities.
Still, he was confident that there were plenty of suitable candidates in New York, noting that hundreds of thousands of residents had been trapped by heavy police checks on marijuana.
“We are convinced that those people exist,” said Mr. Alexander. “We know that many people have done great things,” despite previous drug charges.
Other states have tried to emphasize equality in their markets. But in California, for example, such efforts were complicated by strict regulations, high taxes and substantial barriers to entry, leaving the state struggling years later to quell a thriving black market of untested, untaxed weed.
And in New Jersey, social equality candidates hoping to take advantage of a law similar to New York’s have struggled to raise capital and secure leases — one of the drivers behind New York’s $200 million spend. York.
News of the governor’s plan came with a sharp rebuke from minority leader Senator Rob Ortt, who criticized Democrats who control Albany for handing out “hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to those who broke the law.”
“This is just another reminder that Albany is out of touch with the needs of law-abiding New Yorkers, who pay their taxes and do the right thing,” Mr Ortt said in a statement.
Mr Alexander rejected criticism of the decision to give preference to those with criminal records, saying the legislator made clear last year that it intended to pass the law, noting that the state regularly monitors economic development in a range of industries.
State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly’s majority leader, said the move to prioritize people with marijuana beliefs was crucial to ensuring the industry was not dominated by out-of-state conglomerates.
“We’re trying to do what no other state has done, and that’s focus on their people,” said Ms. Peoples-Stokes, an architect of the law. “It’s critical because it’s a huge industry that will grow our economy a lot, and I think it makes sense to start that growth with New Yorkers.”
Even those without marijuana-related beliefs seem to support the state’s plan. Lulu Tsui plans to apply for a license to open a pharmacy in Brooklyn. Ms. Tsui expects to qualify as a social equality candidate because she is a woman and Chinese American, although she will stand behind those with such beliefs.
But that’s how it should be, she said.
“They should get reparations,” she said. “Their blood, sweat, sacrifice, time advances everyone else.”