By Sarina Trangle (Newsday); Twitter: @SarinaTrangle
Updated August 11, 2023 6:30 pm
Link to original article: Click here to view. 

A judge is keeping the state’s retail pot licensing program at a standstill, but he wants a way to get vendors off the sidelines — soon.

State Supreme Court Judge Kevin Bryant extended on Friday a temporary restraining order on the state’s dispensary licensing program until an Aug. 25 court hearing, according to Sean McGowan, a cannabis attorney not involved with the case.

The state can’t hand out more provisional retail licenses or fully authorize these credentials, which happens when firms find locations and have them vetted by regulators. Bryant urged the state and a group of veterans challenging the licensing regulations to come to an agreement, McGowan said.

“The judge implored the parties to find a resolution and to settle this,” said McGowan, partner at Kaufman McGowan PLLC in Hauppauge. “There’s a lot at stake here: there’s the time, money investment made by the [retail licensees] who are relying on the program; there’s the … growers and processors who have been struggling due to the lack of a retail outlet. There’s the people who have been waiting for the chance to get licenses.” 

Four veterans, including Carmine Fiore, of Levittown, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 3 that challenged the state’s “conditional” or temporary licensing program for retailers. The conditional authorization is only available to New Yorkers who were convicted — or related to someone convicted — of a cannabis offense and owned a business that made a profit for at least two years.

Regulators plan to accept applications from other aspiring retailers as early as October and grant priority to other “social and economic equity” groups cited in the act legalizing recreational marijuana: people from communities with high cannabis arrest rates, minority and women-owned businesses, distressed farmers and veterans disabled while in the service. 

The veterans argue that by keeping them on hold, the conditional licensing program sidesteps the prioritization laid out in state law — an argument also made in a lawsuit filed by a coalition backed by medical marijuana firms.

Press representatives for the veterans and for the state Office of Cannabis Management didn’t comment on Friday’s hearing at the state Supreme Court in Ulster County.

Additional delays deepen the challenges facing cannabis companies on Long Island, entrepreneurs said. Marcos Ribeiro, a farmer who lives in Shirley, said he’d reached verbal agreements to stock his products at four forthcoming shops, which now may not open for a while. Getting into storefronts is competitive because just two dozen or so dispensaries are operating across the state, but hundreds of cultivators are licensed to grow the crop. 

“We just got our first check,” Ribeiro said. “No one is getting rich right now.”

Just one dispensary is operating on Long Island, Strain Stars in East Farmingdale. The court order presents another hurdle for licensees like Nnamdi Ukasoanya, of Amityville, who have struggled to find locations that meet state and local regulations.

“They sent me over the lease,” Ukasoanya said of his plans to launch a delivery service out of a facility in the town of Babylon. “I think [the landlord] will be OK with the two weeks.”

Marquis Hayes and Kim Stetz, a Manhattan couple looking to launch a delivery service in Southampton, are optimistic that arrangements discussed with investors will endure the delay.

“Our investors have said that they want to support and move forward regardless of this,” said Stetz, a psychotherapist. “We’re crossing our fingers.”