After receiving “thousands” of marijuana business license applications since the latest permitting window opened on Oct. 4, New York cannabis regulators on Tuesday green-lit a two-week extension for the submission period. Entrepreneurs will now be allowed to apply until Dec. 18.
At the latest meeting of the state’s Cannabis Control Board, members voted unanimously to extend the licensing period from its original end date of Dec. 4, saying they wanted to give stakeholders more time to throw their hats into the proverbial ring for retail, cultivation, processor, distribution, and microbusiness licenses.
When pressed by CCB Chairwoman Tremaine Wright on how many applications the agency had received thus far, OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said he didn’t have a firm number but that it was easily in the “thousands” and more were incoming every day.
“We definitely have a lot of interest, but the exact count just keeps moving,” Alexander said.
The CCB also approved a change to the enforcement rules for OCM staff that allows them to issue certificates of compliance to unlicensed cannabis dealers whom are issued citations. The move is part of the agency’s ongoing quest to shut down illicit marijuana shops via civil action instead of criminal penalties.
While state law allows OCM staff to issue fines of up to $20,000 per day for unlicensed cannabis commerce, agency staff told the CCB it needed a new tool like the certificate of compliance in order to more easily catalog which operators have said formally they’ve quit selling cannabis and which have simply ignored cease-and-desist orders.
“It’s impossible for us to be everywhere all the time,” an OCM staffer told the board.
Wright said the move will “hopefully” help the OCM “attack some of our unlicensed players.”
Legal marijuana sales have slowed noticeably in the past month, however, OCM Policy Director John Kagia reported to the board, with only $17 million in cannabis products being sold through legal channels. That’s down from $17.6 million in August and brings New York’s year to date total to just $83 million.
The slowdown in sales happened despite the opening of growers’ showcases – basically cannabis farmers markets – that are still being held all over upstate New York, Kagia said.
So far in 2023 there have been 142 such showcase days, Kagia reported. Another 1,250 are on the calendar through the end of the year. The showcases program has sold $1.5 million worth of marijuana, Kagia said and has proven a “critical part of stimulating our supply chain.”
Kagia pointed to the recent news of five added legal retailers opening this week and last week, and said that’ll be a “really important accelerant” for the legal New York cannabis trade, although that only brings the total number of stores to 27.
CCB member Dr. Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins said she was “very concerned” over the ongoing licensing window because OCM has indicated it only intends to issue 40 new cultivator permits, on top of the 279 existing conditional grower licenses that will be kept as well.
“To only pick 40 of them to get a license, how do you know you’re getting … those set to succeed?” Jenkins asked.
Alexander responded that the board has the power to issue as many cultivator permits as it wants; the OCM suggested 40 for a starting point, in order to “make sure we keep a balanced market that doesn’t crash prices.”
“We aren’t trying to create scarcity. We’re just trying to measure and grow the market responsibly,” Alexander said. “We’ll do a subsequent (licensing) window quickly to get some additional licenses out there.”
The board also formally denied a license application for testing lab Highgrade Labs, which had hoped to open in Pomona. It also granted a request by medical marijuana company Fiorello Pharmaceuticals to change a proposed fourth medical dispensary location within Nassau County.
During the public comment period of the CCB meeting, the board got an earful from several conditional adult use retail dispensary license holders, the vast majority of whom have been stuck in limbo since August, when a state judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting 400-some licensed retailers from opening for business.
Though OCM staff have advised CAURD license holders to reapply during the current universal application window, many of those licensees said they’re still in the dark as to what their future holds, and they’re looking for reassurance from the state.
“CAURD licensees who have diligently followed OCM guidelines and advice face pending financial ruin, putting the entire supply chain at risk,” one CAURD licensee from the Bronx told board members. “The state appears to have shifted focus to program expansion, at the expense of existing licensees, despite the private assurances we individually hear. We are on the brink, not just of business failure, but devastating family impacts.”
Another CAURD licensee from upstate New York asked the board members to hold an informational hearing to disclose anything they possibly could while respecting the court order, because there’s a lot of misinformation clouding the landscape.
“I know we’re under the injunction, and there’s not much that can be said, but I’m lost. I’m in the dark. I just reapplied because I was told to reapply,” the licensee said. “Whatever you guys can tell us. Just hold a meeting.”
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