A judge’s order forcing a temporary pause on the issuing of cannabis dispensary licenses in New York was extended for two weeks on Friday as business owners impacted by the injunction rallied outside an Ulster County courthouse to plead their case. Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant withheld a ruling at a hearing in a legal challenge to New York’s cannabis dispensary regulations brought by a group of military veterans, setting a new hearing in the case for August 25.
Bryant’s ruling keeps in place a temporary injunction issued last week barring the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) from issuing new Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses or further processing approved licenses, preventing licensees from getting their businesses up and running.
Lawsuit Filed By Veterans
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by four veterans who have served a combined total of more than two decades in various branches of the U.S. military. The vets argue that restricting retail licenses to those with cannabis convictions violates the state Constitution and was not approved by the legislature when it legalized adult-use cannabis two years ago.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the 2021 law that legalized recreational marijuana in New York, includes provisions that set a goal of awarding at least half of the state’s recreational marijuana dispensaries to social and economic equity applicants. Under a program launched by New York Governor Kathy Hochul last year, the state’s first CAURD licenses for retail cannabis shops have been reserved for “individuals most impacted by the unjust enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated.”
To be eligible for a CAURD license, applicants must either have had a cannabis conviction or be the family member of someone with a cannabis conviction, among other criteria. Nonprofits with a history of serving formerly or currently incarcerated individuals were also eligible to apply for a CAURD license. So far, the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), the state’s cannabis regulatory agency, has issued 463 CAURD licenses, although less than two dozen dispensaries have opened statewide.
Brian Burns, an attorney representing the four plaintiffs, said at Friday’s hearing that his clients have been denied the CAURD program’s benefits for early licensees, including access to strictly regulated retail locations.
“That pushes this from being late to the party to potentially exiled from the process,” Burns told the Democrat Chronicle.
“I don’t think you can quantify how being subjected to an unconstitutional program impacts a person,” Burns said when asked by reporters to detail the potential harm done to the veterans caused by the CAURD program.
At Friday’s hearing, Bryant also set a deadline of 5:00 p.m. Tuesday for litigants to file revised arguments in the case. It is possible the judge could make a ruling based on those filings, according to media reports, but Bryant’s decision is more likely to come at the hearing scheduled for August 25.
Licensees Rally Against Lawsuit
Outside the courtroom in Kingston, New York, a group of cannabis business owners rallied to describe how the injunction is impacting their businesses and to encourage Bryant to dismiss the lawsuit. Many noted that a delay in opening additional licensed retailers will prolong the influence unlicensed operators have on New York’s recreational cannabis market.
Coss Marte, CEO of CONBUD, a CAURD-licensed business with a mission to hire previously incarcerated individuals, joined with three other licensees to file a motion at Friday’s hearing to give impacted entrepreneurs a voice in the proceedings. He notes that only three years ago, before the legalization of cannabis, Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 94% of New York City’s drug arrests, usually for simple possession.
“We’ve paid our dues. We’ve done the time, and if there’s one thing we hope for the world and the court to know, it’s that like cannabis, we’re here for good and we are here to stay,” Marte said in a statement to High Times.
“We had the opportunity to be heard and to fight on behalf of all of our fellow CAURD licensees who will experience irreparable harm if they’re barred from operating their businesses, and we are confident and hopeful that the court wants a swift resolution that honors the original promises made to justice-impacted license holders,” he added.
CAURD Licensee Josh Canfield said that Bryant’s order is forcing business owners who were only days away from opening to delay their plans. In the meantime, a settlement in the case could put things back on track.
“The judge extended the temporary [injunction] that suspends all CAURD operations that are not operational at this time including the ones that were slated to open as soon as next week,” Canfield wrote in an email to High Times. “The judge has urged all parties to try and work together to come up with a solution that is fair to each side, and to do that by the next time they convene in court.”