Firing one up: New York Cannabis board looks to speed up license rollout, let medical marijuana dispensaries sell recreational pot products

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Dazed, located at 33 Union Sq. W in Manhattan, is one of the eight dispensaries legally permitted to sell cannabis in New York state.
Photo by Michael Dorgan

New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will be evaluating several proposed regulations Thursday that aim to fast track the rollout of adult-use dispensary licenses.

The proposals, which will be subject to a 45-day public comment period, are likely to be approved during OCM’s board meeting Thursday and are based on feedback the board has received in recent months.

The proposed changes include enabling medical marijuana providers to sell adult-use cannabis starting on or about Dec. 29, 2023. Additionally, the OCM is expected to make it easier for current adult-use applicants to open dispensaries. 

The proposals come at a time when OCM has come under fire for not issuing licenses fast enough. So far only nine adult-use dispensaries have opened across the state, despite New York legalizing cannabis two years ago. Furthermore, authorities estimate that there are 1,400 illegal storefronts selling cannabis in New York City alone.

The board’s focus, however, remains on limiting licenses to those who have been victims of the war on drugs. OCM has been issuing what’s known as Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses, which are primarily for individuals or their family members who have drug offenses. Some non-profits are also eligible. 

To date, 165 CAURD licenses have been issued, with more expected to be announced Thursday. OCM plans to award 300 CAURD licenses in total, and has received more than 900 applications.

OCM has been limiting the CAURD licenses in the name of equity, providing small justice-involved operators with an opportunity to enter the business by shielding them from the large operators. OCM has been subject to criticism for limiting license applications to such a narrow group.

Cannabis joint lit up
A lit marijuana jointPhoto by Emily Davenport

Trivette Knowles, a spokesperson for OCM, told amNewYork Metro Wednesday that the board anticipates issuing general licenses at the beginning of next year. By that time, many of the small operators would have been up and running.

The revised rules to be discussed Thursday aim to make it easier for existing CAURD applicants to find a retail location, with OCM planning to issue provisional licenses even for applicants that don’t have a pre-determined location. 

OCM said that many small business operators struggle to get a lease without a license. By issuing a provisional license it is expected to help operators negotiate with landlords to get retail space.

Should the proposed rules be approved, medical marijuana providers would be able to co-locate a recreational dispensary within their current businesses starting Dec. 29. The provider would be required to pay a $5 million fee when the license is issued. Additional fees would also be levied.

The medical marijuana operators would then be able to co-locate a second and third site after June 29, 2024. Currently there are 40 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state, which are collectively operated by 10 companies. 

The rules would prohibit medical marijuana operators from both cultivating and selling recreational cannabis, limiting recreational cannabis to just retail.

Knowles said that medical marijuana operators currently cultivate and sell cannabis, which would be permitted to continue for cannabis sold only for medical purposes.

The proposed rules would also permit retail dispensaries to allow consumption on site. However, operators would be required to identify distinct areas on their premises—or on an adjacent parcel–where people would be permitted to use cannabis products.