Upstate New York’s first legal recreational marijuana dispensary opened in Binghamton on Feb. 13. The dispensary is named Just Breathe, and it will sell cannabis products containing THC grown in New York state. While there are several applications for cannabis dispensary licenses currently pending in New Paltz, a federal judge has temporarily blocked cannabis licenses from being issued in the Mid Hudson. This has prevented the licenses from being issued to prospective dispensaries in New Paltz, which are required for retail recreational cannabis.
One New Paltz business that has applied for a license is Farmer’s Choice LLC. They received site approval for their dispensary from the Planning Board in October of 2022. The Board gave the prospective dispensary conditional site approval to be located at 1 Old Route 299 in the two-acre plot of land off the Thruway, but the future of The Barn remains to be seen following the injunction.
Additional applications for cannabis dispensary licenses in New Paltz include one for the net-zero apartment building Zero Place. Despite the injunction, there has been a recent application by a New Paltz woman, for Lila Luckie’s LLC. The cannabis dispensary would be in an existing building at 88 North Chestnut Street.
Judge Gary L. Sharpe from the Federal District Court in Syracuse decided dispensary licenses could not be issued in multiple areas of New York state, including Brooklyn, Central New York, the Finger Lakes and Western New York. The plaintiff in the case, Variscite NY One, argued certain requirements for the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license violated constitutional protections of interstate commerce. The requirements at issue were that applicants must have significant ties to New York state as well as a cannabis-related conviction under New York State law. Judge Sharpe’s decision affects 63 of the 150 licenses that the state planned to issue to people that met these conditions.
After New York legalized recreational cannabis for those over the age of 21 in April 2021, the lawmaker’s objective was to have a cannabis market that included those that had been impacted by decades of marijuana policies. Described as “justice involved individuals,” the first wave of license applicants were required to submit documentation that they or a family member were convicted of marijuana related crimes. The state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) had begun accepting applications in August and September of 2022, and planned to issue the first round of licenses by the end of the year.
Variscite argued in the case that the company would face irreparable harm if it were forced to wait for their license while other businesses got a head start by being issued the first number of licenses. Although Kenneth Gay, Variscite’s majority owner, was convicted of a marijuana offense, the company did not qualify to apply for one of the first licenses because it is based in Michigan. The company also argued that New York state could accomplish its objective through other means, rather than giving the first number of licenses to justice involved individuals.
Judge Sharpe decided that the state had failed to make a convincing case for how the legalization regulations were narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate purpose. The appeal of his decision from the state OCM was rejected by the U.S. District Court. However, 11 other regions in New York state were not affected, which explains why Binghamton’s dispensary was able to acquire its license.
Just Breathe marks the state’s third licensed dispensary — with two others already operating in New York City. In a statement released by the office of Gov. Hochul about the opening of the dispensary, Chair of the Cannabis Control Board Tremaine Wright said, “New York state’s cannabis industry is growing, and by empowering local non-profits and individuals harmed by prohibition, we’re showing the nation how to establish an equitable and fair cannabis industry.”
Outside of Just Breathe, all other legal recreational marijuana shops in Upstate New York are operated by Native American nation tribes like the Oneidas, Mohawks, Cayugas and Senecas. Unlike medical marijuana shops that exist across New York, customers will not need a prescription to purchase from recreational marijuana dispensaries. The marijuana sold in these dispensaries will be tested and regulated.
“We’re creating jobs, spurring economic growth and providing access to quality cannabis products and education across the state,” Wright said.
Black market marijuana sellers continue to be a concern for New York state amidst the opening of legal dispensaries. In her executive budget proposal for the state OCM, Gov. Hochul gave $22 million for the Office to work with local law enforcement to decrease illegal sales of marijuana.
“It’s certainly a public health issue at the end of the day,” OCM spokesman Freeman Klopott told Spectrum News 1. “Their products are not tested. We don’t know what’s in them.”
The injunction has stalled the plans of those living in the affected regions that planned to profit from recreational marijuana. Marvin Morales, a marijuana farmer in Mount Morris, NY told Spectrum News 1 that the judge’s decision is causing his region to fall behind the rest of the state while illegal distributors continue to operate.
“We’re hoping that as this all starts to go and come together, that will kill the gray market, which is really the big problem. The gray market is doing really well,” Morales said.
The Executive Director of the OCM commented to 2WGRZ about applicants forced to wait for licenses due to the injunction. “I know that especially seeing business operations getting going, it might feel a little bittersweet, but it’s the commitment for us is just about doing the program, rolling out the program in the right way. To [Western New Yorkers] I say we’re coming,” Alexander said.
Operator of Just Breathe Damien Cornwell offered his perspective on applicants being affected by the injunction. “The wheels of change grind slow; that will get done and people will start. In the meantime, it will give us a chance to perfect the system that clearly had some holes in it along the way, so when they do come the upside would be maybe a smoother process,” he added.
More marijuana dispensaries in regions that are not affected by the injunction are expected to open in New York state in the coming weeks.
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