By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
The Office of Cannabis Management began its rollout of general marijuana licenses on Oct. 4. Currently, the Office is holding informational sessions across New York State to get the word out about their licenses, a total of five, and to ensure that information on how people can get started in the cannabis industry is readily available. At a meeting on Wednesday Nov. 1 at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, two OCM representatives, John Kagia, Director of Policy, and Jason Salmon, Director of External Affairs, gave a two-hour presentation, informational session and Q&A for those interested in acquiring a marijuana license. Though the application is open for everyone, Salmon said the OCM is trying to prioritize communities disproportionately impacted by arrests, convictions and police presence related to marijuana enforcement.
“What does that mean? That means that your arrest rate in your community is higher comparatively to other parts of the state. I’ll use myself as an example. I grew up in Clinton Hill, Fort Greene. From the time that I was born in ‘86 to about when I was 16, 17, I lived in a CDI [Community Disproportionately Impacted], I lived in an area that was targeted by the police that had a high number of arrests,” Salmon said.
The new licenses available to be applied for are Cultivator, Processor, Retail Dispensary, Distributor and Microbusiness, according to Kagia and Salmon. The first round of applications open for businesses with an existing store location will close on Nov. 17, and the second for those without an existing store location will close on Dec. 18. Kagia said he was excited about the future of the marijuana industry and was looking forward to getting more licenses out there. More importantly, Kagia said that creating the parameters of a new market meant making it as equitable and open as possible.
“The idea of social equity isn’t about being exclusionary to the groups that have historically been a significant part of this industry but it’s to provide opportunities for weaker diversity of stakeholders in this market. Generally, when you have greater diversity, the data is clear, you tend to have better consumer experiences,” Kagia said. “One of the things that’s most exciting to me is the idea that several years from now, we will be looking out at a market that is the most diverse in the country. And one that truly reflects the amazing cultural and socioeconomic diversity that is New York.”
Connie Chang, an attendee of the event who runs a food packaging business, said she was interested in a processing license. Chang said she was excited about the future of cannabis and wanted to partake in such a massive new market. Though Chang said the meeting was helpful, she said she still had a lot to learn about the process of obtaining an OCM license and starting her own business.
“I think if I could get [a license] then I would just be hitting the ground running, finding a space, getting insurance, getting a bunch of different things lined up, and that’s when it does start to feel overwhelming,” Chang said in an interview. “It’s cool, it’s just scary, but it’s exciting. Maybe this is what it felt like during the Gold Rush or something.”
Chang said she is a long-time cannabis user and has been tracking the developing legal cannabis market in different areas for a while.
“I’ve been a cannabis user throughout my life, and have always been kind of entrepreneurially minded, or consider myself to be, and I’ve watched the weed, cannabis space growing across the US, you know visited different states and countries where there’s different levels of adult recreational use happening and I’ve always just been curious what a business role for me in this space could look like,” Chang said. “I was really excited when the New York rollout started.”
Monique Chandler-Waterman, NY State Assembly Member for Brooklyn’s District 58 and the Chair of the Cannabis control board, said she was excited about the new legislation because her district, a majority Black and brown community, had historically been impacted by over-policing. Chandler-Waterman said she was excited to usher forward a new way of marijuana policy.
“Our premise at our office is that we know our community members who have been most impacted, justice impacted, making sure they have a seat at the table in opportunities like this. I’m happy to work in partnership with the Office of Cannabis Management to make sure we get information to our community members,” Chandler-Waterman said during the presentation.