New York issues first licenses for legal cannabis dispensaries

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NEW YORK — New York issued its first 36 cannabis dispensary licenses on Monday, marking a monumental step in establishing a legal — and lucrative — marketplace for recreational marijuana.

The permits approved by the state’s Cannabis Control Board were the first of 175 plans the state issued, many of which were reserved in the first round for applicants with previous marijuana felony convictions.

Eight nonprofits were among the 36 licensees granted Monday.

Some dispensaries, selected from a pool of more than 900 applicants, are expected to open by the end of the year.

New York also has a $200 million public-private fund planned to help “social justice” applicants repair the ravages of the war on drugs, especially in communities of color.

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“Today is a monumental day for New York’s burgeoning cannabis industry. With the first adult dispensary licenses now in the hands of companies and eligible non-profits, we have ensured that the first sales will be made at dispensaries operated by those affected by the unjust enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” said Tremaine Wright, president of the Cannabis Control Board.

A court ruling earlier this month delayed the board from approving pharmacies in some parts of the state amid a legal dispute over licensing criteria. Nevertheless, officials said they would issue the remaining permits as soon as possible.

Angel Turuseta and Emely Chavez, who operate Royal Leaf NY in the Bronx, were among those who secured one of the first licenses.

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“I’m still trying to understand,” said Turuseta, who was surprised when she reached out shortly after the board meeting.

Queens’ Suzanne Furboter also struggled for words. “It’s very exciting and we feel grateful,” she said.

Housing Works, a New York City-based nonprofit, said the permit it received Monday would allow it to continue helping low-income New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS.

“It was clear to us that selling the legal recreational cannabis industry would allow us to help more people and improve the service we provide to our customers, whether it be supporting those who have been wrongly locked into the War on Drugs, or people who are homeless and/or living with HIV/AIDS,” the agency said in a statement.

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Now that the first licenses had been issued, it remained to be seen whether officials would ramp up their efforts to go after dozens of unauthorized pharmacies opened over the past year by people who shrugged off 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 came up with proposed rules for the sale of marijuana, focusing on public health, product quality and safety, and preventing people under the age of 21 from purchasing cannabis.

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