New York has become the first state to offer people with past cannabis-related convictions and business experience initial access to obtain marijuana dispensary licenses before other applicants.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration and the Office of Cannabis Management began accepting applications from “justice-involved” individuals last week. Such applicants must show proof of profitable business experience for at least two years. The office said it would prioritize women, minorities, veterans, and distressed farmers previously charged with marijuana convictions before March 31, 2021. Relatives of convicted individuals, including parents, guardians, children, spouses, and dependents, are also eligible for priority.
Non-profit organizations could also be eligible if they “intentionally serve justice-involved individuals and communities with historically high rates of arrest, conviction, incarceration or other indicators of law enforcement activity for marijuana-related offenses.”
The move comes after New York lawmakers passed the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act last year, which created a new Office of Cannabis Management that emphasizes “social and economic equality” for those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The law would automatically expunge past marijuana convictions and invest 40% of the tax revenue into rebuilding such communities affected by individuals who were “harmed” by the War on Drugs.
“We think that leaning into folks who are not only justice-involved but have that business experience means that we’re going to find a bunch of applicants who have gone through some significant challenges to still open and operate successful businesses,” Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander told Politico. “We just took a different approach.”
Alexander said that the office had taken measures to remove barriers from the application process that would otherwise be “overly burdensome” or require hiring consultants or attorneys for completion. But applicants won’t receive a refund of the $2,000 application and licensing fee.
Those who pass through the application process would be entitled to receive aid from a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, which would set up nearly 150 applicants with a retail location and financing.
Fox Business reported that when New York lawmakers signed the 2021 marijuana bill, the governor’s office estimated it would create approximately 60,000 jobs and generate up to $350 million in annual tax revenue.
New York Governor candidate Lee Zeldin denounced Hochul’s legislation saying it would only fuel a coalition of criminals.
“The Criminals for Kathy coalition is growing,” Zeldin said in a March 11 tweet.” Cannabis dispensary licenses are going to start getting distributed in NY, & the Hochul admin will be giving FIRST PRIORITY to people previously convicted for marijuana offenses. Hochul’s criminal first agenda is so wrong for NY.”
A Siena College Research Institute survey that polled 804 registered New Yorkers revealed that only 33% are in favor of prioritizing giving previously convicted marijuana-related offenders a head start on obtaining dispensary licenses. While 54% opposed and 13% said they were unsure.
“Giving first dibs on marijuana licenses to those previously convicted divides Democrats and New York City voters. Strong majorities of Republicans, independents, voters outside New York City, and white voters give it a thumbs down,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said. “Latino voters support it by 12 points and Black voters by 11 points.”
New York’s dispensary licenses online portal opened on Aug. 25 and runs through Sept. 26.
New York is one of 19 states to have legalized recreational weed.