New York issued its first 36 cannabis dispensary licenses on Monday, taking a monumental step in establishing a legal — and lucrative — marketplace for recreational marijuana.
The licenses approved by the state's Cannabis Control Board were the first of 175 the state plans to issue, with many in the first round reserved for applicants with past convictions for marijuana offenses.
Eight nonprofit groups were among the 36 licensees granted Monday.
Some of the dispensaries, selected from a pool of more than 900 applicants, are expected to open by the end of the year.
New York has also planned a $200 million public-private fund to aid "social equity" applicants to help redress the ravages of the war on drugs, especially in communities of color.
"Today is a monumental day for New York’s nascent cannabis industry. With the first adult-use retail dispensary licenses in the hands of businesses and eligible nonprofits, we’ve ensured the first sales will be made at dispensaries operated by those impacted by the unjust enforcement of cannabis prohibition," said Tremaine Wright, who chairs the Cannabis Control Board.
A court ruling earlier this month has delayed the board from approving dispensaries in some parts of the state amid a legal dispute over licensing criteria. Nevertheless, officials said they would issue the remaining licenses as quickly as possible.
Angel Turuseta and Emely Chavez, who operate Royal Leaf NY in the Bronx, were among those snagging one of the first licenses.
"I'm still trying to comprehend it," said Turuseta, who expressed surprise when contacted just after the board's meeting.
Suzanne Furboter of Queens fumbled for words, too. "It is very exciting, and we feel grateful," she said.
Housing Works, a New York City nonprofit, said the license it got Monday would allow it to continue its work helping low-income New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS.
"It was clear to us that sales from the legal recreational cannabis industry would allow us to help more people and increase services to our clients whether that is supporting those that have been unjustly incarcerated in the War on Drugs, or people experiencing homelessness and/or living with HIV/AIDS," the agency said in a statement,
With the first licenses now issued, it remained to be seen whether officials would step up their efforts to go after scores of unauthorized dispensaries opened in the past year by people who shrugged at licensing requirements.
New York legalized recreational use of marijuana in March 2021 but is still in the process of licensing people to sell it.
The cannabis board also advanced proposed regulations for the sale of marijuana, with a focus on public health, product quality and safety and preventing those under 21 from buying cannabis.