New York regulators want people who were affected by marijuana criminalization to get the first licenses to sell recreational pot in the state, an effort to redress the harms of the drug war and to prevent large companies from dominating the market. New York isn’t the first state to give priority to people previously arrested for drug crimes, many of whom are racial minorities, when approving licenses for recreational marijuana sales. Advocates said such efforts have often been co-opted by large companies, including in California, the Wall Street Journal reports. To help people targeted in the program, New York has set up a $200 million fund from which licensees will take out loans at an interest rate of about 14 percent to start cannabis stores. The loans will be available to successful applicants for the first 150 retail licenses, which are earmarked for what New York calls “justice involved” people who can show they or a close family member was convicted of a marijuana-related offense.
The state will lease and equip the locations where those stores operate. “Equity is not a thing for us. It’s the thing,” said Chris Alexander of the New York state Office of Cannabis Management. Hundreds of people have applied for the licenses. A full tally will be released after a Sept. 26 application deadline. New York officials hope some of the first 150 stores will open by the end of this year. General applications will begin next year, and the regulators are working on details for medical dispensaries to apply for recreational sales licenses. New York legalized marijuana in 2021 after years of haggling in the legislature about how to regulate the marketplace and distribute cannabis tax revenue. Alexander said the ideal applicant is someone who was arrested for marijuana possession or sales during their younger years but established a successful business. The first licenses require that at least one person on an application was involved in a business that was profitable for two years.