The journey to legalizing cannabis sales in New York State has been slow going, but an end to the limbo between legalizing recreational marijuana use and legalizing its sale is hopefully in sight.
The long legal process had its impact in Tompkins County, with two area businesses and an Ithaca-based organization facing potential consequences of the actions of the New York Office of Cannabis Management.
NYS is “‘on track to have the first sales before the end of 2022,’” stated Tremaine Wright, chair of the OCM’s Cannabis Control Board, in a recent press release.
Earlier this month, the OCM voted to approve regulations detailing the approval process for the first conditional adult-use retail dispensary licenses and the application form itself.
As promised, the first batch of licenses will go to “justice involved” applicants. This term describes people that received a cannabis conviction, or have been affected by a family member’s cannabis-related offense. Applicants must also meet certain criteria related to owning and controlling a business or nonprofit.
“New York’s first legal adult-use retail dispensaries will be operated by those most impacted by the enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis and who also have strong business backgrounds,” stated the OCM press release.
The application window will open up later this summer.
Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature authorized $200 million to bolster the first conditional adult-use retail dispensaries, also with the aim of promoting equality within the cannabis industry and ensuring that those historically disproportionately impacted by cannabis policing are among the first to reap the profits of the legal industry.
According to a press release from Governor Hochul’s Office, the funds will help lease and equip up to 150 conditional adult-use retail dispensaries in the state.
As part of the effort to build a legal, well-regulated cannabis market, the OCM has been cracking down on illicit “sticker shops,” which have flourished based on the reasoning that cannabis cannot be sold yet in New York State, but it can be gifted alongside another purchase, such as a sticker.
The OCM sent cease and desist letters to 52 businesses in February and chose to publish the unredacted letters earlier this month. The letters took a hard stance against sticker shops, stating that “illegal sales include the sale of cannabis products in-person at a retail location, online, via delivery, or at an event; and include so-called ‘gifting.’”
Lakewatch Inn and Good Vibes Customs were the two Tompkins County businesses amidst the published letters, though the owners of both businesses claimed they did not actually receive a letter in the mail.
Good Vibes has been fairly transparent about its sticker sales in the past, but declined to comment on whether they would be changing their business model based on the letter.
Lakewatch Inn owner Nicole Reynolds has been adamant that the letter sent to her business was unfounded; she had agreed to host CannaMarket at her venue, but later decided that she didn’t feel comfortable hosting the event, and the market found a new venue—the Cherry Artspace.
“I think it’s unfortunate that LakeWatch got sent a letter,” CannaMarket organizer Kenneth McLaurin said. “I’m not sure why they sent that letter to LakeWatch. It seems odd, especially since they don’t do any hemp or cannabis [sales].”
When asked about the situation, the OCM said that it doesn’t comment on investigations.
“Our intent when sending out these cease and desist letters was to get unlicensed sales to stop. We deeply appreciate all recipients of these letters who ceased to participate in any unlicensed sales. The Office of Cannabis Management’s intent is to discourage any unlicensed sales, and we are thankful to those who cooperated,” Deputy Director of OCM Communications Aaron Ghitelman said.
As for the CannaMarket events, McLaurin asserted that no cannabis sales take place, including “sticker” sales, though attendees could exchange marijuana if they desire.
“There [are] so many legal ways to exchange cannabis….Within our event, people are allowed to exchange cannabis in the ways that [are] legal in New York state,” McLaurin said.
He feels that the goals of CannaMarket actually align with the state’s goals as an event that allows cannabis and CBD enthusiasts, farmers, educators and other people affiliated with the industries to meet up.
“I think what we’re doing through the CannaMarket supports and highlights what New York State wants from the legalization of cannabis. Really positive, healthy education, events, community,” McLaurin said.
Julia Nagel is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at the Ithaca Times. This piece was originally published in the Ithaca Times.