A New York Judge recently issued a court order that allows just two cannabis retailers to open for business, while hundreds of others are put on hold.
On Oct. 6, Judge Kevin Bryant permitted Manhattan-based ConBud LLC and Queens-based Kush Culture LLC (also known as Terp Bros) to be exempt from the current hold on cannabis business operations.
Bryant initially issued the injunction in August, which prevents retail cannabis licensees from opening. Currently, more than 400 conditional adult-use retail dispensary licensees are on hold, and while no more licenses are being awarded by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). Only 23 cannabis businesses are operating throughout the entire state.
“While today’s ruling is a disappointment, we are committed to working with the Cannabis Control Board to find a way forward that does not derail our efforts to bring the most equitable cannabis market in the nation to life,” the OCM said in a response to Bryan’s decision.
Bryant stated that any licensees who were already ready to open by Aug. 7 would be allowed to request an exemption from his injunction. In response to this, the OCM sent a list of 30 retailers who were ready to open and seek exemption, although Bryant did not agree that most of them were actually ready. ConBud and Kush Culture are the only approved licensees so far.
According to attorney Jorge Vasquez, representing both ConBud and Kush Culture, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in regard to the injunction. “We’re certainly pleased with the decision,” Vasquez said. “It’s certainly a step in the right direction for the CAURD program and for CAURD licensees, and we hope that these two are just the first of more to come.”
Vasquez added that there isn’t a specific date that the two businesses will open, but with Bryant’s approval, it could be as soon as tomorrow.
According to a statement from attorney Wei Hu, obtained by Green Market Report, he expressed his excitement that Bryant had approved two licensees so far, and expects possibly 14 more exemptions to be announced in the very near future. “With open applications, there is no basis for the injunction to remain against any provisional CAURD licensee… There is no basis for this litigation to continue to impose unprecedented pain against hundreds of families,” said Hu. “That being said, I am thrilled my clients Jeremy Rivera and Alessandro Cottone can resume the commitment to bringing access to licensed cannabis to the Astoria Queens community, and the dozens of living-wage jobs that come along with it.”
Kush Culture/Terp Bros also told Green Market Report about being one of few to be exempt so far. “We’re ecstatic. We’re going to try to move as fast as we can,” said Jeremy Rivera about Terp Bros. “It’s been long enough. We’ve been holding off for two months almost since the injunction started back in August. Now, it’s getting the staff trained, getting inventory in.”
Another attorney involved in representing the CAURD licensees, Duncan Delano, added that the situation is hopeful, but not entirely reassuring at the moment. “If you’re not one of those two [licensees], you’re still pretty frustrated. I have many clients in that boat. But it is hopeful, and I’m portraying that to my clients, as a sign of hope.”
A group of four military veterans also filed a lawsuit against the state of New York in August regarding the first approved licenses being awarded to individuals with cannabis convictions, and no disabled veterans or members of a minority group received a license. “The MRTA had already established a goal to award 50% of all adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants. But instead of following the law, OCM and CCB created their own version of ‘social equity’ and determined for themselves which individuals would get priority to enter New York’s nascent adult-use cannabis market,” reads a joint statement on behalf of the veterans.
In September, new rules were approved by regulators to open up license applications for social equity applicants (which includes veterans, minority and women-owned businesses, and struggling cultivators starting on Oct. 4. “It’s about time,” said Carmine Fiore, one of the veterans in the case. “We finally have an equitable playing field. We are finally being prioritized—as we should have been under the law.”
According to Delano, cases such as these could lead to additional lawsuits in the future. “It’s part of a strategy that continues to be working: playing hardball and OCM being on the defensive,” he said.
While the landscape of the New York cannabis industry remains tumultuous for the time being, the city of Rochester is preparing for the influx of cannabis jobs. At the end of September, the Rochester Public Library announced a five-week cannabis certification program to help prepare city residents to embark on new careers in cannabis. “As we prepare for legal cannabis dispensaries to operate in our region, it is important to make sure we have a pool of qualified employees ready to start working in these businesses as soon as they open,” said Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans. “The City of Rochester puts a lot of consideration into our processes to make sure cannabis businesses are set up to succeed in our city, especially for Black and Brown people who were most negatively affected by the war on drugs.