By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
Brooklyn’s Community Board for District 2 made local weed history in their meeting on Wednesday Sept. 13 by bringing three marijuana stores up for approval and passing them all without any contest. However, despite the support from the community, there is still not a clear path toward licensing for any of the stores in front of the council due to a state-wide restraining order on all licenses pending a lawsuit against the Office of Cannabis Enforcement. Still, the hearings were indicative of one truth: legal marijuana is coming to New York, even though the specifics of how is not quite clear yet. In the community board, chairperson Lenny Singletary emphasized the importance of understanding how to deal with the new applications and predicted that there would be much more to come.
“The reason I wanted Mr. Smith [Health, Environment & Social Services Chair] to go through these is that these are the first cannabis applications that have come in and it’s important for us to understand how we process this,” Singletary said. “I would imagine that we’re going to see an increase in cannabis applications, especially given the state regulations where they’re going to heavily fine illegal applications, as well as passing monetary fines along to the owners of the buildings that are allowing this to take place.”
The Office of Cannabis Management is currently being sued due to OCM’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program, a program that only permits licenses to those who fulfill two requirements: a prior cannabis conviction, or that of a close family member, and having owned a legitimate business for at least two years. With the lawsuit pending, New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant declared a temporary restraining order on all CAURD licenses in New York City in Aug. 2023. The three proposed locations, Pura Vita Enterprises Inc at 288 Flushing Avenue, Are We Good Enterprises Inc at 154 Vanderbilt, as well as YRM Dispensary LLC at 436 Albee Square W, are now in limbo. The owners are unable to continue moving forward with establishing their businesses, despite starting the process of working towards a license. According to Andrew Cooper, professor of the business and law of cannabis at Hofstra University, as well as a practicing cannabis, psychedelics and healthcare attorney, this leaves the owners of these stores in a deeply uncertain situation.
“These people committed everything. I mean, built teams, and they got people around them who could help them. They spent their time and days going around looking at space, talking to landlords, and negotiating with a lot of predatory lenders. We got plenty of those,” Cooper said.
“Now they’re just stuck in this weird abyss.”
The production, distribution and recreational use of cannabis was legalized in New York State in 2021, with the passing of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act. Later on, the OCM established the CAURD in order to prioritize those who had been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis in the state — now, four service-disabled veterans, represented by law firm Feuerstein Kulick, are suing the OCM because they believe that the conditions are too narrow and therefore unconstitutional.
According to a similar lawsuit filed against the marijuana legislative agency in March 2023, the original MRTA law passed in 2021 outlines that licenses should be open for all and that the CAURD program is in violation of that. That lawsuit was filed by the Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis, a group that seeks to expand access to all applicants and does not agree with the priority afforded to CAURD applicants.
“Rather than perform the tasks required by the MRTA – which would promote a safe and regulated cannabis industry for medical patients and adult-use consumers alike – CCB and OCM have improperly assumed the role of the Legislature to impose their own policies over those of New York’s elected officials and, by extension, their constituents. This unconstitutional overreach violates the separation of powers doctrine,” lawyers for CARSC wrote. “New York’s Legislature required CCB and OCM to open ‘the initial adult-use retail dispensary license application period. . . for all applicants at the same time.’”
All of the applicants under review by the community board had gone through the initial stages of the OCM’s CAURD application process. During the community board meeting for District 2, Brendan Smith, Health, Environment & Social Services committee chair, walked the board through the various steps that the applicants had to go through before coming in front of CB2, and are different from the unlicensed smoke shops that have exploded around the NYC area. Cannabis shop owners must have security details at their locations, and they must check the identification of anyone who enters the premises of their stores, according to information shared by Smith during the CB2 meeting. Furthermore, Smith said that the stores have already gone through stages of community discussion prior via the OCM application process.
“There has been an awareness at our committee about the prevalence of smoke shops about unlicensed illegal cannabis businesses throughout the community. What was important for this conversation was to focus the conversation on the applicants in front of us and their circumstances,” Smith said during the meeting. “Keeping in mind, these three applicants went through significant licensing processes with the Office of Cannabis Management to ensure that the protocols were adhered to and to ensure that they comply with different levels of compliance from the Office of Cannabis Management.”
Despite MRTA passing in 2021, the city has only managed to pass a handful of legal cannabis stores, though illegal ones have popped up like weeds on the corners of New York City. Currently, there are four legal marijuana dispensaries in New York City, and an estimated 2,500 illegal ones, though the number might be higher, according to numbers released by the state in April. Cooper said the reason that the cannabis rollout has taken so long is the stringent requirements that OCM has outlined in order to prioritize justice-involved individuals.
With pending lawsuits, the path forward for these three stores is uncertain, regardless of whether or not they have been approved by the community board or not. Until they receive a final walk-through from the OCM, the stores are unable to sell any of the marijuana that is piling up in warehouses in the state, according to Cooper. Since the identity of marijuana license applicants is kept private, none of the store owners were able to be reached for comment.