New York is still planning to open its first adult-use cannabis dispensaries before the year is out, according to Governor Kathy Hochul.
The rollout of retail sales has been mired in red tape ever since the Empire State legalized weed in March of 2021. Lawmakers were hopeful that retail sales could begin by the end of last year, but former Gov. Andrew Cuomo never got around to appointing regulators to serve on the state's new Cannabis Control Board (CCB). The entire rollout for adult-use sales remained on ice until Hochul took Cuomo's place last summer.
“Talk about the rollout being jammed up,” Hochul told Advance Media New York. “When I became governor, nothing had happened. Nothing. It was shut down because there was a battle between the administration and the legislature over who would be the executive director and the chairs of the cannabis review boards.”
Hochul broke the stalemate by appointing her own chairpeople, but the new regulators said they wouldn't be able to open dispensaries before the end of 2023. The governor then launched a plan to allow existing licensed hemp producers to start growing weed for the adult-use market. Regulators are now planning to issue the first 150 dispensary licenses to people who have previously been arrested for weed, and Hochul created a $200 million social equity fund to help these entrepreneurs build out their new storefronts.
Regulators have continued to insist that sales won't begin until 2023, but Hochul just told the press that the state is “still on track” to open its first dispensaries in the next few months. “We expect the first 20 dispensaries to be open by the end of this year,” said the governor to Advance Media. “And then every month or so, another 20. So, we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”
Despite the governor's promise, the state must overcome many roadblocks before legal weed shops can open for business. For one, the CCB has continued to delay the rollout of its final adult-use retail regulations, which must be completed before sales can begin. Other state agencies are dragging their feet as well. The state Dormitory Authority, which will oversee the buildouts of new dispensaries, reportedly hasn't secured any properties for these new stores to set up shop.
And once the dispensary locations are finally approved, they still need to be built. The financing for these buildouts is supposed to come from the governor's social equity fund, but this fund has yet to actually raise any money. Federal banking restrictions are also making it difficult for the state to find a bank that is willing to take the risk of handling weed-related cash. Regulators also need to review more than 900 applications for dispensary licenses that they have received and then select the 150 winning applicants.
Regardless of these hurdles, Hochul is confident that the state can pull off this feat in less than 90 days. “We’re going to make sure that this is a model for the rest of the nation – especially with our desire to make sure that people who’ve been affected by the criminal justice system adversely ... have the opportunity to work in this area,” she told Advance Media.