On Sunday, November 26th, New York State moved towards resolving a contentious lawsuit alleging discrimination in its cannabis licensing process. The lawsuit claimed that the state unfairly favored convicted marijuana felons over disabled veterans in awarding licenses for legal cannabis sales. This settlement marks a significant shift in the Empire State’s approach to its burgeoning legal marijuana market.
The lawsuit, brought by disabled veterans Carmine Fiore, William Norgard, Steve Mejia, and Dominic Spaccio, argued that New York’s cannabis licensing policies were discriminatory. In response, the state Cannabis Control Board called for an emergency meeting to approve a settlement and dismiss the case without further litigation.
The details of the proposed agreement remain undisclosed, but the resolution is expected to significantly impact the state’s legal cannabis landscape. The lawsuit had resulted in an injunction issued in August by Albany Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant, which effectively froze the state’s cannabis program. Bryant had concurred with the plaintiffs that the state likely illegally favored drug felons over other groups in the distribution of licenses under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act of 2021.
This legal standoff had stalled the approval of numerous licensed cannabis operators, leaving hundreds of cannabis stores in limbo and giving illicit dealers a substantial advantage. The anticipated settlement has been welcomed by legal operators like Osbert Orduna, CEO of The Cannabis Place, who expressed relief over the resolution’s potential to revitalize the legal cannabis community. Orduna said, “After months of the harmful impact on legal operators trying to open, there is some great holiday daze for the entire cannabis community.”
Additionally, the regulators are set to settle a second, similar lawsuit filed by a coalition, including some of New York’s medical marijuana companies. This lawsuit also claimed that state officials exceeded their legal authority by restricting the initial application pool to individuals with past marijuana convictions or their relatives.
Chris Alexander, the state Office of Cannabis executive director, acknowledged the challenges and frustrations in establishing a new market built on equity. He emphasized the state’s commitment to the success of legal cannabis businesses and the pursuit of pathways to expedite their opening.
The settlement is expected to accelerate the opening of the stalled cannabis stores, addressing a significant gap in the state’s legal weed program. At the time of reporting, only 26 licensed cannabis shops have opened statewide, with just 11 in New York City, compared to an estimated 1,500 illicit pot shops.
This development in New York’s cannabis policy highlights the ongoing efforts to balance equity, legal authority, and market dynamics in the evolving landscape of legal marijuana sales.