Ruling halts weed dispensary openings in NY due to priority given people affected by drug enforcement



A judge’s order stopping cannabis regulators from proceeding with retail licensing means that there won’t be any new marijuana dispensaries opening in New York, at least for the time being.

According to Politico, New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant sided with a group of disabled veterans who filed a lawsuit last week claiming a priority licensing program for business owners affected by marijuana enforcement was unconstitutional.

Bryant ruled that without a legal injunction prohibiting the cannabis licensing initiative, it appears “that there is genuine urgency and that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result” if officials continue its implementation.

Marijuana ready to be sold is seen at Zoom Club in June 2020. New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant’s order stopping cannabis regulators from proceeding with retail licensing means there won’t be any new dispensaries opening in the state for now. (Photo: Alberto Ortega/Getty Images)

The court is preventing the state’s cannabis regulatory bodies from issuing new permits and from approving the opening of dispensaries by those who already have licenses.

The decision is the most recent setback for New York’s plan to ensure those with cannabis-related convictions during marijuana prohibition can profit financially from its legalization.

After making marijuana legal for recreational use last year, New York granted licenses to 28 entrepreneurs to open the state’s first cannabis retail dispensaries — giving 19 to members of racial and ethnic minority groups, theGrio previously reported.

Nine recipients in areas with some of the lowest national median household incomes and eight nonprofit organizations received the Empire State’s last licenses, bringing the total number to 36.

Despite the challenge to the licensing program’s selection criteria, the state’s Cannabis Control Board shut down a seed-to-sale supply chain, which should have allowed sales to begin.

According to Politico, cannabis regulators in the state attempted to launch the recreational marijuana market with a program that gave select business owners with prior cannabis offenses or their close family members preference for the initial dispensary licenses. Licenses were also available to nonprofit organizations that work with formerly incarcerated populations.

New York created a program to match entrepreneurs with prior convictions with financing and real estate. However, the initiative has failed more than two years after the state initially legalized marijuana, with fewer than 20 stores open for business. Hundreds of unauthorized shops have sprung up, creating a thriving illegal market.

Veterans and other entrepreneurs meant to obtain priority licenses under the 2021 legalization bill initiating the action are upset by the delay. According to that statute, “social and economic equity applicants” are those from groups disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition, as well as service members with disabilities and owners of minority- or women-owned companies.

Claims of unfair prioritization also were made in a March lawsuit by a trade association, which claimed that the state agencies had overstepped their bounds by giving preference to entrepreneurs with marijuana convictions. In another legal battle, businesses that make hemp-based beverages are suing the government over its emergency hemp regulations.

A representative for the Office of Cannabis Management said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The Ulster County Supreme Court in Kingston, New York, will have a hearing on the licensing disputes this Friday, Aug. 11, at 10 a.m. The deadline for parties to upload documents is today at 5 p.m.

If the court keeps preventing the program, entrepreneurs such as Osbert Orduña won’t be able to open their shops. Orduña is a service-disabled veteran awarded a license intended for those whose businesses have been impacted by the legal system.

His company, which already makes cannabis deliveries, has started construction of a storefront in Queens that won’t be able to open if the court order stands.

He said he and others awarded early retail licenses are not the only ones hurt by the court order; those who hold processing or cultivation licenses will also suffer.

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