NY Judge greenlights 30 cannabis dispensaries, leaving hundreds in limbo amid legal battle

August 30, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a mixed ruling that has left many recreational cannabis applicants with more questions than answers, State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant has permitted 30 additional businesses to open retail cannabis shops in New York, while leaving more than 400 other licensees in limbo.

The decision, announced on Friday at the Ulster County Courthouse, came as a response to a lawsuit filed by four service-disabled veterans who claimed the application process unfairly prevented them from opening their businesses. The veterans’ lawsuit argued that the state Office of Cannabis Management had overstepped its authority and violated the constitution by barring veterans and others from applying for licenses to open retail dispensaries.

Justice Bryant had previously issued a temporary restraining order that halted all cannabis licensing in New York. However, on Friday, he lifted the injunction, but only for 30 licensees that were previously deemed “ready to open” by the Cannabis Control Board and the municipalities where they plan to operate. These businesses include Westchester Harvesting LLC and JNR Auto Group, both of which applied for a special license reserved for “justice-involved individuals” in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

This decision means that the remaining 400-plus licensees must continue to wait as an ongoing legal challenge to the state’s Conditional Adult Use Recreational Dispensary (CAURD) program progresses through the court. The CAURD program has issued 463 conditional adult-use licenses since the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act was signed into law on March 31, 2021. These licenses are available only to individuals who had a marijuana-related conviction prior to that date.

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The ruling has sparked frustration among applicants who were not included in the exemption. Scott General, an applicant who was approved for a license on June 15th and planned to open a shop in the Finger Lakes region, expressed his disappointment when he told WTEN ABC, “We didn’t get a whole lot of answers, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, Erica Ford, founder of the non-profit LIFE Camp, Inc., described the situation as unfair. Her organization, which holds one of the more than 400 dispensary licenses that remain on hold, has complied with all state requirements. Ford told PIX11 News, “I think that we’ve done everything that the state has asked us to do, and for us to get caught up in this lawsuit is unfair.”

Despite the setback, the New York State Office of Cannabis Management expressed its commitment to finding a way forward that does not undermine its efforts to create the most equitable cannabis market in the nation. In a statement, the office said, “While today’s ruling is a disappointment, we are committed to working with the Cannabis Control Board to find a way forward that does not derail our efforts to bring the most equitable cannabis market in the nation to life.”

The legal battle continues as both sides prepare for another hearing scheduled for Sept. 15. Additionally, the state Cannabis Control Board is expected to expedite its review of final licensing adult-use cannabis dispensary regulations and adopt them at its Sept. 12 meeting.

In a related action, the Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis has requested that Justice Bryant order the Office of Cannabis Management to disclose information and potentially sit for depositions detailing their efforts to combat the rise of illegal dispensaries across the state.

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