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State Senate to hold public hearing on state cannabis limbo

State Senator Jeremy Cooney announces the first public hearing on the rollout of New York's legal weed program.
Photo by Gino Fanelli
State Senator Jeremy Cooney announces the first public hearing on the rollout of New York's legal weed program.

The head of the state Senate’s Subcommittee on Cannabis on Thursday scheduled a public hearing on the rollout of legal cannabis in New York amid mounting frustration from players in the nascent industry fueled by delays in the state’s issuing of retail sales licenses.

The hearing will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 11 a.m. in Albany, the senator, Jeremy Cooney, said.

New York legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021. But launching a legal marketplace has moved at a glacial pace.

Last year, the state Office of Cannabis Management opened its Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license program. That project aimed to give the first round of dispensary licenses to people of color and people with criminal convictions related to the sale and possession of marijuana.

More than a year later, though, no dispensaries have opened in the Finger Lakes, and there are just 23 statewide. The rollout has been largely hamstrung by court cases arguing the constitutionality of the CAURD license provisions.

“These applicants have taken on a substantial financial risk and feel like a rug was pulled out from underneath them,” Cooney said. “And each time I receive a phone call, and I’ve received many, from a licensee or an applicant waiting to hear back from the state, it is absolutely heartbreaking.”

The most recent court order blocking dispensary openings came in a case filed by a group of disabled veterans, who argued the state’s provision offering preference to people who previously were arrested for what were cannabis-related crimes is unconstitutional.

Last week, Rochester got its first legal weed shop in Herbal IQ-Rochester through a workaround in the law. That operation is not a fully legal dispensary, but rather a “growers showcase” that is sponsored by a retail operation with an existing license and is meant to be temporary. Such shops also operate in Newark and Batavia.

For people like Britni Tantalo, the wait is unbearable. Tantalo is the president of Flower City Dispensary. She said she is stuck in purgatory waiting to hear about the status of her CAURD license.

“The unjustifiable harm we have all endured is difficult to even put into words,” Tantalo said. “It goes beyond the large financial loss we are all currently facing. The emotional and mental hardship this rollout has caused is unquantifiable.”

Gino Fanelli covers City Hall. He joined the staff as a reporter in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.