Adult-Use Cannabis In New York Still Stumbling Out Of The Gate

Even with promising settlement that will open Finger Lakes region, the Empire State remains a laughingstock

Imagine if one company (with the help of a judge) could delay progress on the dispensary front in a whole region with a lawsuit. Or if the rollout of a multimillion-dollar fund to help lift business owners who “have been disproportionately targeted for cannabis infractions” was a total and complete disaster.

Those are both descriptions of adult-use cannabis in New York at the current moment, which was yet again unsettled this week when a key figure in the process stepped down from the state’s Cannabis Control Board. Reuben McDaniel, the president and CEO of the New York State Dormitory Authority, made the announcement following another wave of outrage from prospective license holders.

With even more setbacks than stakeholders ever imagined going into the new adult-use market there, people started pushing back dramatically late last year. As the New York Times explained last week:

When New York State began laying the groundwork for its recreational cannabis industry last year, officials cast atoning for the harm done by the war on drugs as a cornerstone of the ambitious plan — and promised to give people who were previously convicted of marijuana offenses the first opportunity to sell it legally.

Today, that effort appears to be foundering: Although Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested last fall that more than 100 dispensaries would be operating by this summer, just 12 have opened since regulators issued the first licenses in November.

In a letter to regulators and the governor’s office last month, a coalition of dozens of the prospective dispensary operators described being blocked by the state from selecting their own storefront locations. Some said that they felt pressured to accept inflated rents and construction costs, while others said that the state was withholding funding from those who wanted to lease space or handle matters on their own, according to the letter, which was also sent to The Times.

Meanwhile, cultivators are stuck with obscene amounts of product. The Associated Press interviewed a grower from upstate who still has “700 pounds (318 kilograms) of pungent flower [that] was harvested last year as part of New York’s first crop of legally grown pot for recreational use”—plus “roughly 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of distillate” on hand because there are “only a dozen licensed dispensaries statewide to sell what [he and] more than 200 other farmers produced.”

This is all happening as New York authorities waffle back and forth on whether to raid unlicensed cannabis stores, and as activists attempt to put the brakes on major companies that will likely consume most of the market once things are up and running.

As Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, the chief executive of a grass-roots policy organization that works on behalf of current and former dealers, told the Times, “I think folks are exhausted and understand that we’re at a make or break moment, and that if this ship doesn’t change course, we aren’t going to see what we thought we would see.”