New York to Reserve First Cannabis Retail Licenses for Those With Past Convictions


As reported (paywall) by the New York Times, New York intends to reserve its first retail licenses to sell marijuana for people convicted of marijuana related offenses, or their relatives.  The policy is part of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act’s (MRTA) social and economic equity plan, which Simon Malinowski wrote about in this blog post last April. Simon explained in detail the application process for Equity Applicants, including who qualifies, as well the critical differences in the application process for non-Equity Applicants.

According to the Times, the new policy is part of an effort to assure that marijuana licensees—and the profits and tax revenues from sales—will benefit members of communities affected by the War on Drugs.  The War on Drugs’ vastly disproportionate effect on people of color is beyond question. (See here, here, and here for just a few examples.)  So we applaud New York’s equity efforts, which go far beyond just the new policy to reserve the first retail marijuana licenses for persons directly impacted by the War on Drugs. See How New York Cannabis Legalization Prioritizes Equity, New York Cannabis: $200 Million for Social Equity

Numerous states that have legalized marijuana have adopted some form of social equity programs.  (These programs are not without critics). Their success or lack thereof is a subject of much debate. Here in Oregon—where the legislature just enacted a retroactive moratorium on all new marijuana licenses—equity seems to have taken a back seat to protecting the economic interests of current licensees. Our colleagues at Green Light Law Group have pointed out as did our own Vince Sliwoski in writing about the impact of the new Oregon license moratorium, here and here.

Will New York’s ambitious plans and the new policy to reserve the first retail licenses for persons with marijuana convictions, or their family members, make a difference?

It is too early to tell in this writer’s opinion. The success of a marijuana business depends on more than just having a license (even one of the first licenses). Make or break factors include the location of the retail store, leasing and real estate considerations, access to capital and banking, regulatory compliance regimes, business acumen and other considerations. That said New York’s plan seems a step in the right direction.

Stay tuned for regular updates on New York marijuana laws, regulations, and policies for our local office in Manhattan– including how New York’s plan to reserve retail marijuana licenses to advance equity plays out.

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