The first round of applications for the Cannabis NYC initiative, meant to attract and support cannabis business owners as the projected $1.3 billion industry develops, is now open. The city and state said they’re working hard to create jobs while also addressing the decades of harm over policing and trumped up “drug-related incarcerations” have had on Black and brown communities. 

Over the last 30 years, roughly 250,000 New Yorkers had marijuana-related arrests, said the State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). The city estimates the cannabis industry will eventually generate $1.3 billion in sales by 2023 and jobs — 19,000 to 24,000 jobs created over the next three years. By law, the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), there must be at least 40% of the revenue funneled back into impacted Black and brown communities.  

“We made the promise that we are going to use this law to reinvest in those who were justice-involved, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Mayor Eric Adams at a presser on Monday, Aug. 22. “For too long, these communities have faced high rates of drug-related incarcerations and they have been denied opportunities to build wealth. That’s a terrible combination and today we’re dismantling that combination.” 

Adams simultaneously started pushing out the illegal and unregulated cannabis market that’s bubbled up all over the city since MRTA was signed into law on March 31, 2021. He said there won’t be arrests, but there also can’t be trucks on the streets openly selling and not paying taxes.

Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Kevin Kim crafted the Cannabis NYC plan with “equity” for ‘justice involved’ individuals at its core. Applications to the OCM opened up 150 retail dispensary licenses Thursday, Aug. 25. The licenses for legal adult weed use are called Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensaries (CAURD). This first wave of CAURD licensees are supposed to go directly to those impacted by the ‘war on drugs’ who have run successful businesses in the past two years. 

Over the next month, OCM and the city will attempt to distribute licenses to qualifying businesses owned by formerly incarcerated individuals, or their parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, or dependent. If a person or a close family member had a marijuana arrest or conviction before March 31, 2021 and have been an owner or a partial owner of a profitable business for two years or more, then they qualify. 

“As one of the Black communities most harmed by the federal war on drugs and the state’s Rockefeller laws, we strongly believe that our people must benefit economically from the legalization of the billion-dollar marijuana industry,” said Regina Smith, executive director, Harlem Business Alliance in a statement. “Without tremendous resources from the city and state—especially startup capital and intensive culturally-competent, community-based, business development services—this will not happen.”

OCM’s Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon said that the phrase ‘justice involved’ is important to finding and verifying these potential licensees and connecting them with cannabis business services. Fagon said in order to start the conversation OCM has tapped church groups, Black business groups, and various other venues to meet people where they are from Buffalo, Kingston, and Albany to the Bronx. He said people who have shown interest in applying often have backgrounds in various industries, like contractors or barbers or tax accountants.

As far as the illegal market crackdown, Fagon said this is a “public health situation” that necessitates regulation so people know where products are from, what’s in them, and how they were made. Especially, with concerns of people selling fentanyl laced weed or cannabis with pesticides and chemicals in them.

“I would leave this position if we started putting people behind bars for selling a plant,” said Fagon. “But that’s not what the city did and that’s not what anyone’s talking about doing. There’s no law on the books that would put someone behind bars, but there are fines.”

Fagon added that unlicensed or illegal cannabis shops that have been operating for a while aren’t necessarily from within New York City or the “legacy community that’s been selling weed in communities” for decades. He said storefronts are often out-of-state owners, not from the culture, and looking to make quick cash. OCM has sent out cease-and-desist letters to unlicensed shops and is trying to get people to transition into the legal market.

There are nine total licenses that the state is issuing next year for those that don’t initially qualify in this round. These other licenses involve on-site consumption, delivery, microprocessing, nursery, and other areas of the cannabis industry, said Fagon.

New Yorkers can learn more about Cannabis NYC online at or by calling 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692). Applications for licenses close on September 26.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here:

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