New York's First Cannabis Retail Licenses Will Go to People with Prior Convictions

The state is looking to even the playing field for those affected by the war on drugs.

Marijuana joints.
Mitch M/Shutterstock
Mitch M/Shutterstock

As New York State readies to open its first retail cannabis stores, the state is hoping to right the wrongs of the past by bringing people formerly convicted for cannabis-related offenses into the legal market.

The New York Times reports that the first 100-200 licenses granted by the state will go to those who previously faced convictions for cannabis-related crimes or members of their family. These businesses will be some of the first allowed to open later this year, and will benefit from a $200 million state fund designed to help find and renovate storefronts to allow them to compete with deeper-pocketed investors. The state will also assist in reviewing their business plans, hoping to identify applicants with the greatest chance of success. 

Chris Alexander, the executive director of New York's Office of Cannabis Management, told The Times that the state is focused on "those who otherwise would have been left behind" in the legalization movement, with the hope to "do something that has not been done before" in other states that have legalized cannabis.

Under the legalization bill signed into law last March, half of all cannabis-related licenses are reserved for women, minorities, veterans, and people from areas that were "disproportionately impacted" by the war on drugs. The bill also expunged thousands of past convictions under now-antiquated laws. Applications for cannabis cultivators open next week, the first step in creating a retail marketplace that lawmakers estimate will generate around $2.5 billion in revenue. 

Last year, New York became the 15th state to legalize cannabis. It came shortly after a similar effort in neighboring New Jersey, and was closely followed by legalization in Connecticut. Retail stores are expected to be operational in all three states by 2023.

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Chris Mench is an editor focusing on NYC News at Thrillist. You can follow him on Twitter for more of his work.