NY Regulators Reach Settlement, Clearing Way for Pot Retail in Finger Lakes

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed last year.
Finger lakes
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Regulators in New York said Tuesday that the state had reached a settlement with a Michigan cannabis business, clearing the way for the Empire State’s regulated marijuana industry to be fully implemented, specifically including the Finger Lakes region.

The five-member panel of the New York Cannabis Control Board unanimously approved the decision to settle with the Michigan-based Variscite NY One, Inc., which sued the state last year after being denied a cannabis retail license. 

The ensuing lawsuit resulted in a court-ordered injunction in November that precluded the state of New York from issuing licenses to several regions, including Brooklyn.

In March, the same federal judge lifted parts of the injunction, which enabled the state to award 99 new licenses, including to Brooklyn, Mid-Hudson and other regions where licenses had been temporarily banned. But the injunction remained in effect in the Finger Lakes, which is currently the only region in New York where licenses have not been allocated.

But the vote on Tuesday by the Cannabis Control Board could change that. 

The lawsuit was filed last year by Kenneth Gay, the owner of Variscite who has been previously convicted of a pot-related offense in Michigan. 

New York announced last year that the first round of cannabis retail licenses would be awarded to individuals previously convicted of a marijuana offense or a family member of someone who had. 

But Gay’s application was denied because his conviction occurred in Michigan, and New York regulators require license-holders to have “significant” ties to the Empire State.

Tuesday’s decision by the Cannabis Control Board must now be approved by a federal judge. If it is, it would officially end the “court injunction preventing the state from granting [Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary] licenses to businesses in the Finger Lakes region,” and “would also guarantee an adult-use license for the plaintiff once general licensing begins,” according to Syracuse.com.

“We felt that we had strong ground on this; however, it is impeding CAURD licensees in that region,” said Cannabis Control Board member Reuben McDaniel, as quoted by Syracuse.com. “I’m very pleased that we’re considering this today … not because I think that this lawsuit has any merit, but our CAURD licensees need to be in the Finger Lakes, as well, getting to work.”

The outlet noted that most of the “details of the settlement will remain confidential until it is filed and approved in court later this week.” 

The adult-use cannabis market launched in New York late last year with the opening of a store in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood. 

Other shops followed in Manhattan, and in March, the first legal cannabis retailer opened in the borough of Queens. (It was also the first woman-owned dispensary in the state.) 

After the federal judge lifted part of the injunction earlier this year, the Cannabis Control Board announced in April that it had “granted at least one [Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or “CAURD”] provisional license in each region other than the Finger Lakes, which remains blocked by the injunction.”

The board explained at the time that the 99 new licenses it had awarded “included four for Western New York, one for Central New York, five for Mid-Hudson, and three for Brooklyn, marking the first provisional licenses to be issued in these regions following last week’s modification of a court injunction that had prevented the Board from issuing them.”

“We are proud of today’s approval of 99 CAURD provisional licenses, marking a vast expansion of the Seeding Opportunity Initiative as we continue to build an equitable market that offsets harms caused by cannabis prohibition and its disproportionate enforcement,” Tremaine Wright, the chair of the Cannabis Control Board, said in a statement at the time.

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