The sudden cancellation of a state cannabis licensing board meeting scheduled for Wednesday left applicants hoping to run weed businesses fuming.
After learning of the cancellation Tuesday evening, LakeHouse Cannabis CEO Paul Suits Jr. sent a two page document outlining his frustrations trying to win a dispensary license to the Office of Cannabis Management—remarks he had planned to read aloud at the state Cannabis Control Board meeting.
Suits applied in October for a retail license to sell in Cortland, New York close to Syracuse. Under the state’s criteria, he qualified as a “priority” applicant for a dispensary license because he already has a retail store that he could shift into cannabis sales. Even the buildout of his location is complete, except for the cannabis itself.
“The only thing we don’t have right now is the employees because we don’t have a license,” he said.
But the state’s communications about how many of the priority licenses it would award and the process for how those licenses would be awarded has shifted in the months since Suits applied, creating confusion for him and hundreds of other applicants who already have locations ready to go. The priority application window closed on November 17, but so far, the state has not awarded any of the licenses from the queue of priority-track candidates.
“You have to understand how this feels if you were in our shoes,” he wrote in his comments, reviewed by THE CITY.
In an interview, Suits said the Office of Cannabis Management, the agency that works with the board, had led him and other applicants to believe they were on a fast track to starting up. “Through their direction, it was understood that if you had a spot, you had approval and you could get a license,” he said. “There are hundreds of people like us, with locations that are ready to go, and the state’s fumbling the ball.”
Just three proposed sales dispensaries were among the licenses to be considered according to the agenda for the meeting, which was posted on and later deleted from the Office of Cannabis Management’s website. The other 10 pending licensees on the canceled meeting’s agenda were cultivators, “microbusiness” small producers, and processors.
The first sign of trouble came late Tuesday afternoon. Adam Perry, one of the members of the Cannabis Control Board, wrote in an email obtained by THE CITY, that the meeting had been canceled at the behest of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).
“The Governor requested we cancel the meeting, so no meeting tomorrow,” Perry wrote.
At nearly 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, the Office of Cannabis Management notified the public that the meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday would be canceled. In a press release, OCM said that the board had decided to postpone the meeting until next month to finalize reviewing applications currently under consideration. No future meeting date has been set so far.
“While we have a batch of licenses ready for approval, there are many more we want to get across the finish line to jumpstart New York’s cannabis market in 2024,” said the press release. “We want to ensure the issuance of as many licenses as possible, as soon as possible.”
‘A Lot of Problems’
When THE CITY reached out to the Office of Cannabis Management for comment about Hochul’s role in canceling the meeting, a spokesperson for OCM texted a statement saying, “To be clear, the Governor did not postpone tomorrow’s meeting that is the charge of the CCB,” referring to the Cannabis Control Board.
Perry did not respond to requests for comment.
Jason Gough, a spokesperson for Hochul, referred THE CITY to the statements made by the Office of Cannabis Management.
Several people working across New York’s cannabis industry expressed concerns to THE CITY about the state’s reasoning for canceling the meeting at all.
“If they had a problem with just the licenses that they were going to issue yesterday, then just take that one agenda item off,” said Joe Rossi, the head of cannabis lobbying for Park Strategies. “We need public discussion,” he added, referring to the public comment period of the board meetings.
Others told THE CITY that they viewed the January meeting cancellation as the latest evidence of dysfunction from the state.
“We were all super excited that we were going to start giving out licenses,” said Jeffrey Hoffman, a cannabis lawyer in New York. “The list of licensees had only three retail stores on it when all the state has talked about is how we need more stores.”
Added Hoffman: “We have a lot of problems and not a lot of solutions so far.”
The legal cannabis program that has faced repeated setbacks in the three years since legalization. A lawsuit last summer halted all dispensaries from opening for several months last year. While more have now begun opening around the state after a settlement in November, New York still has just 53 licensed dispensaries statewide. Meanwhile, the number of unlicensed stores in New York City alone has exploded into the thousands, overwhelming many neighborhoods.
The Office of Cannabis Management has been publicly calling for more retail locations. On the last Friday of December, the Cannabis Control Board held a hastily announced meeting in part to approve a medical marijuana operator’s transition to operating stores for the general public
That meeting exposed tensions between the board and the executive director of OCM, Chris Alexander.
Jennifer Gilbert-Jenkins, a member of the Cannabis Control Board, said she was confused why they were having a meeting at all so late in the year after already meeting in December. “There was this push to have another meeting, now this week, that I didn’t find out about until last night. I’m on vacation with my family,” she said. “What’s so important I need to be here right now?”
“We need more dispensaries, we’re trying to add more dispensaries,” a visibly frustrated Alexander later said.
Jayson Tantalo, one of the founders of the New York Cannabis Retail Association, a trade group that advocates on behalf of dispensary licensees and applicants, still doesn’t have a license of his own.
Like Suits, he has a secured location that’s ready to go. Tantalo initially applied as part of the special program the state launched to award the first licenses to people who had past drug convictions and their family members—but never received one. He applied again in October, as part of the priority group for people who had secured locations.
“We have a lease. Every single month, I have to extend it and pay more. When are they going to process the applications?” Tantalo told THE CITY. “We have no idea. It’s up to their discretion.”
Tantalo said he’s paying $13,000 a month for a retail space in Victor, near Rochester.
Suits told THE CITY they’re not giving up yet and will continue to advocate for getting their retail licenses.
“We’re still all in for the time being,” said Suits. (Full Story)