Though New York legalized cannabis in April 2021, cannabis sales have had a really rocky rollout, with only 14 licensed dispensaries open in NYC as of January 2024.
Raids on illicit shops (basically all shops) started in May 2023, and the interagency task force confiscated 1,000 pounds of product retailing around $10 million in June 2023 alone.
New York wanted to address communities severely impacted by its long history of criminalization for marijuana, so only those deeply impacted would receive the first round of licenses – except, it was found unconstitutional and halted.
Where We Are Now
An expedited application cycle opened in Oct-Nov 2023 for retail and microbusiness with 50% of spots aimed at deeply impacted people. Results were supposed to come out mid-December, but the queue of 2,232 applicants was published in January 2024. A month late and soo many dollars short.
Cannabis was legalized in NYC in 2021…right?
The government was working and listening to us, and they had great intentions. We thought a lot of progress was made when they legalized recreational cannabis possession and decriminalized it, meaning those convicted of marijuana-related crimes could find relief and get charges dismissed. This was in April 2021, right in time to celebrate 4/20.
Except. It was legal to possess, but nobody could sell it. Yet.
So, It was illegal AND criminalized, until it was legal, but kinda still illegal, and decriminalized. Progress, right?
Here Comes the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM)
At the same time they legalized cannabis, they created a state agency, the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). This agency is responsible for spearheading the roll-out, making sure new legislation incentivizes the participation of “individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition” through their Social and Economic Equity (SEE) plan.
But you know that nothing in the government happens overnight. Especially with a newly created agency.
2022: Not Much Progress on the Rollout
Fast-forward to August 2022. OCM rolls out an application process only for those disproportionately impacted – the Conditional Adult-Use Recreational Dispensary license (CAURD). These businesses are owned by “justice-involved individuals” and will make sales by the end of the year…but that didn’t really happen.
Introducing Housing Works Cannabis Co., the first legal dispensary in the state. They had a “soft” opening on December 29, and then they closed for awhile. So late, and so many dollars short.
So no, you can’t really get legal weed at this point, no matter what any shop tells you. The CAURD process was just taking so long and it involves a lot of capital investment. Even when individuals received their CAURD license, they faced additional problems finding space, getting product, and financing everything.
2023: A Tumultuous Time
This is the way things are going into 2023, but by now, people are beyond tired of waiting. Business owners have taken things into their own hands and started selling weed anyway. They either repurpose their smoke shop or sell it behind the counter of the bodega.
The government did not like this.
OCM is pretty quiet at this point, saying they are working with licensees and trying to quicken the process. There are few updates on their official page and calling/emailing does little.
May 2023: The Beginning of Crackdowns
In May 2023, Gov. Hochul passed legislation creating an inter-agency task force to crack down on illicit cannabis shops in NYC. This group consists of agents from NYPD, OCM, the Department of Health, Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), and the Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF). So, with all these agencies represented, there’s no way they are being denied access to your store. Food service establishments can’t refuse DOH employees. DCWP covers tobacco and vape products, and DTF rules over all taxes and financing, so…if they show up and your store has more than the legal possession amount of 3 ounces, your store is closed, your products confiscated, and you may be arrested.
But don’t worry, it doesn’t seem like the courts are interested in continued criminalization of petty cannabis crimes, at least in NYC, so you”ll likely scrape by.
But you’ve been warned: illicit shops received a cease and desist order about continuing to operate. They can receive fines of up to $20,000 per day post-raid and unable to get a true cannabis retail license (whenever they roll that out).
At this point, cannabis is legal, you can smoke it in the street and have up to 3 ounces on you, but you cannot buy it from a legal source. Legally. New Yorkers always find a way, though.
A Setback for OCM: August 2023
A couple of months later, things are still status quo. OCM is in a bit of a pickle with their CAURD program with lawsuits against the agency for discriminatory practice. In August 2023, the courts ruled that their CAURD process is unconstitutional.
So, the government was trying to overcompensate and help the community they put in jail so often for small marijuana crimes, and now they have to halt for exactly that reason.
We’re all just fish floundering in the water.
Part of OCM’s legislation dictates that dispensaries purchase product from NY farmers, so these farmers have been growing heaps of cannabis, but few to no dispensaries are open in the whole state, but especially in NYC. People are struggling left and right, going bankrupt. NY farmers are sitting on too much product.
OCM’s solution to this? Farmer’s markets for direct-to-consumer purchases and showcases to offload some of the excess. A bunch of these pop up in 2023, so NYC residents are starting to get their legal cannabis.
A real application cycle – October 2023
The last leg of our story is with OCM’s first real application cycle, open to anyone (who can fill out the 29 page application and pay the $1,000 application fee). Hallelujah!
This cycle opens in October for all licenses – processing, cultivating, microbusiness, and retail dispensaries. The standard window closes on December 17, 2023, but they offer an expedited application window that closes on November 17, 2023. The plan is that anyone who submits in the expedited window will hear back by the end of December.
Except…December came and went. Mum’s the word from OCM. Their voicemail says that if you are calling about licensing, they have no information for you. Just sit tight and wait for OCM to contact you if they have questions about your application.
So…no news is good news, kinda?
The present (January 2024): Still No Real Progress for Businesses
And here we are now. Mostly still waiting. Last week, OCM published the adult-use application review queue for the expedited cycle, and it shows the order they are reviewing applications in. This includes only applications submitted in the first month of the application window, and there are 2,232 applications OCM has to review. So, no, applicants won’t hear back about their license in December, but they’ll find out their rank in January on a super long list. No idea how long the process is.
Another route that many businesses (including ours) took is to apply as a hemp retailer and open a CBD dispensary. These are uniquely positioned to easily switch to THC once licensed, and the framework/store set up is largely the same.
Gov. Hochul has proposed new legislation this month that gives locals power to close illegal shops, called operation SMOKEOUT. The New York Post reports OCM has confiscated “nearly 12,000 pounds of flowered pot and cannabis edibles” from June-December 2023. That’s a lot of weed, and a lot of money!
To date, 14 legal dispensaries are open in NYC.
And that’s where we are.
Stay tuned, we’ll keep updating!