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Why Are Veterans Challenging New York’s Cannabis Licensing Procedures?

Another Lawsuit For The OCM Threatens Current Industry Stakeholders

As the ‘Big Apple’ takes bold strides in the cannabis sector, a whirlwind of business prospects, licensing intricacies, and societal questions bubble to the surface. Even today, the question, “is cannabis legal in New York?” is not easily answered by any passerbys. The smoke shops with their sandwich-board signs featuring cannabis leaves with “delta-8 products sold here”, and the green ice-cream trucks selling prerolls out of the back of a pick-up window while NYPD stroll by would have many believing “yes, cannabis IS legal in New York!” In reality, the products largely being sold in the streets of Manhattan from these vendors are illegal. With the now not-so-recent legalization in March 2021, New York stands at the precipice of a booming cannabis business era. This precipice is not without its crippling set backs to industry stakeholders. These are these the overflowing secured storage of cannabis cultivator facilities, a delayed retail dispensary roll-out and potentially more illegally acting smoke, CBD, and vape shops selling untested or diverted products from the West. Alongside these challenges are significant delays to retail dispensary rollout, a stahled social equity funding program and a regulator that is slow to respond to requests confirming location eligibility.

The CAURD Controversy

Central to the recent licensing debacle is the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program. Designed to be the beacon of New York’s progressive ethos, CAURD aims to rectify the injustices of the cannabis prohibition era by allowing those affected by cannabis prohibition to be the first in line to become cannabis retail dispensary operators. A lawsuit from four military veterans against the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has flung the licensing process into a state of uncertainty. The recent lawsuit is one we should all be paying attention to. This is one that threatens the OCM’s current and already very delayed timelines for the launch of public applications and the opening of hundreds of existing CAURD license holders.

The creation and implementation of the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses is an important step in acknowledging and remedying the historical wrongs faced by those who have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition, however formally speaking, there is no mention of the CAURD program in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). In the creation of the CAURD program, the definition of social equity was defined to exclusively include those with previous cannabis related convictions previous business experience. Unlike the State of New Jersey, for example, social equity was also defined more broadly and includes those living in impact zones (over policed areas, high crime index, or high unemployment rates), minorities, women, and service-disabled veterans. What this could mean for CAURD licenses is that they have been awarded to “rich, white, middle-aged men that have been charged for smoking a joint a single time.” the grievances brought forward by the four military veterans highlight another facet of the “social equity” conversation that cannot be ignored. Veterans, particularly disabled ones, face their own set of challenges and hurdles. Their dedicated service to the nation warrants recognition and inclusion in the emerging industry, especially when considering the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for a myriad of health issues commonly faced by veterans. Our conversations with members of the OCM is that there is the intent to set a scoring criterion to account for a broader definition of social equity once the applications open to the public. What that looks like has not been discussed or revealed to us at this time. The OCM has indicated that the cannabis applications for cultivator, manufacturing, retail dispensary and microbusiness will be available to the public in September. It has been mentioned by members of the OCM to me that when they are reviewed in October that applicants who are included in the broader sense of social equity will receive special scoring or have their application evaluated in a priority sequence, alternating with public applications with no priority. While it’s evident that individuals with prior cannabis convictions should be included in the social equity category, it should not have been the sole criterion. Although it’s unlikely to stop any stores from rolling out, it certainly has the moment to stop the issuance of more cannabis retail dispensary licenses. The ultimate goal should be an inclusive and diverse cannabis industry that provides opportunities for all social equity groups, taking into consideration both historical injustices and the sacrifices and services of our veterans. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires thoughtful policy-making and transparent governance.

The statue of liberty in New York looks over Manhattan, which has be slow to open up their cannabis retail dispensaries in a timely manner, now delayed by yet another lawsuit

Lucas McCann, from the expertise hub of CannDelta, aptly sheds light on this matter. He accentuates the unique adversities faced by veterans, highlighting the profound importance of recognizing their sacrifices. Their devoted service, McCann notes, becomes particularly salient when you factor in cannabis’s potential therapeutic advantages for many health challenges veterans grapple with.


Only individuals with prior cannabis convictions can be considered for a cannabis license in New York. While this has been a significant criterion, the landscape is evolving, and broader definitions of social equity are being discussed.

New York aims to award at least 50% of its recreational marijuana dispensaries to social and economic equity applicants.

Setting Up Shop: The Cannabis Entrepreneur’s Guide

For those nurturing the entrepreneurial spark, the first question might be, “how to start a cannabis business in New York?” Given the evolving landscape, potential business owners must exhibit agility and resilience.

From deciphering “how much is a cannabis license in New York?” to the nuances of “how to apply for a cannabis license in New York?”, the journey brims with complexities. Here, guidance from industry stalwarts like CannDelta is invaluable. Such firms simplify the labyrinthine licensing processes, ensuring that budding entrepreneurs can navigate the field with clarity and confidence.

The unfolding legal battles encapsulate larger societal debates. How can New York construct a cannabis industry that’s both prosperous and inclusive? The ultimate vision should manifest an industry that fosters diversity, acknowledges historical injustices, and wholeheartedly celebrates our veterans’ tireless efforts.