Want one of New York’s first retail marijuana licenses? Regulators say start preparing now.

When it comes to opening a licensed recreational marijuana dispensary in New York, being the first has definite advantages.

Beyond the initial customer traffic and initial publicity, the first batch of licensed businesses will get help finding retail space and will be eligible for financial assistance from the state to lease it, build it and even buy software and furniture.

The New York Office of Cannabis Management explained these advantages Tuesday afternoon during an online information session for potential applicants. The benefits could be particularly valuable to cannabis entrepreneurs in New York City’s expensive real estate market.

But state officials reiterated that they will give benefits to people with a prior marijuana conviction or a relative with a prior marijuana conviction, in addition to meeting other criteria. Advocates have praised this approach as innovative, but some said there are aspects of the proposed rules and regulations that may be too restrictive.

“That Cannabis Control Board authorized licensee will receive access to a turnkey operation,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the state Office of Cannabis Management.

Those interested in applying for the first batch of Adult Conditional Use Retail Dispensary licenses must meet a series of strict requirements, and with applications going out soon, Alexander advised people to start gathering the necessary documentation to prove your eligibility now.

State cannabis officials proposed regulations in March that would reserve the first 100 to 200 retail licenses for New Yorkers who have criminal marijuana records or their family members. But they must also demonstrate a track record as a successful business owner.

The regulations are still subject to change before they are finalized and are open for public comment until May 31. Cannabis regulators have said their goal is to get the first dispensaries up and running by the end of 2022.

Under the proposed rules, applicants must have owned at least 10% of a business that has been profitable for at least two years and have the financial records and tax documents to prove it. And Alexander emphasized that only marijuana convictions received before March 31, 2021, while living in New York, not arrests, will satisfy the criminal justice component.

An applicant who meets all of these criteria must have at least a 51% interest in the cannabis business they wish to start. Applicants will also need to submit a business plan, their fingerprints and a $2,000 non-refundable fee, according to Tuesday’s filing.

Jeffrey Hoffman, a local attorney who represents people interested in obtaining cannabis licenses in New York, said there are aspects of the regulations that are tripping up some clients who have illegally sold marijuana in New York and are now looking to get ahead.

“My legacy clients who were smart enough not to get arrested are incredibly angry,” he said. “Because it’s like, ‘We were the cannabis industry all along before, and now we’re not going to take the first bite of the apple.’”

He added that many low-level felons arrested on cannabis charges before it was legalized in New York received “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” rather than a conviction.

But Alexander said the goal of limiting licenses to those who were convicted is to help people most affected by previous cannabis laws.

“The charge of the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act is to undo some of the damage done by marijuana prohibition,” he explained in Tuesday’s session.

Hoffman said there are other aspiring dispensary owners who served time for a cannabis conviction and “then have been a model employee at a company” who are also frustrated that they are not eligible in the first round.

It is not yet clear to what extent regulators will consider an applicant’s experience in running an illegal cannabis operation and whether it will weigh in their favor. But Hoffman said there will likely be acceptable ways to disclose that on the application.

Alexander noted that those who do not receive a retail license in this round will still have another opportunity to participate. He said additional licenses are likely to be available in early 2023.

And social equity applicants, a broader category than just those with previous convictions, can still get financial support later. The state has set aside $50 million to start a $200 million seed fund with public and private dollars. Some of the tax revenue generated by legal cannabis businesses can also later be used to support social equity seekers, including minority and women-owned businesses, struggling farmers, disabled veterans, and communities disproportionately affected by cannabis. the War on Drugs.

Alexander also encouraged people to consider other types of licenses or find ways to use their skills to get jobs in the cannabis industry instead of becoming business owners.

“If you do marketing now, you can do marketing for cannabis companies,” he said. “If you do payroll services now, you can do it for cannabis businesses.”

Those wishing to submit comments on the regulations may email [email protected]

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