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Cannabis conviction needed for first retail licenses in NY


State-owned cannabis shops have a negative tone to veterans of the legacy market in many legal states as well as Canada. Small businesses are often swept out and replaced by big corporate buds. Countering this, New York plans to offer retail licenses to individuals with a cannabis conviction through a Social Equity Program.

That is, 50% of the first licenses for cannabis retail outlets in New York will be granted only to those with a cannabis conviction. (1) Any parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, or dependent of the justice served individual, the one previously convicted of a cannabis crime before March 31, 2021, can also apply for the initial licenses. (2)

Former Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed New York’s legalization bill on March 31 last year. (3)

Is the state investing in convicts with their own securities?

Within the plan, the state promises to provide funds while slyly holding ownership of storefronts. True, equity should imply that the wrongs imposed on cannabis consumers are being righted following one definition of the word. Following New York’s cannabis licensing plan, though, social debt is a more fitting definition of equity.

Social and economic appears to be the brand name. This is because funds granted by the state will be issued through an equity [mutual stock] fund. To be blunt, the plan allows the state to quietly invest securities and assets collected from cannabis crimes back into former prisoners of the drug war. Meanwhile, the state takes a chance at a major investment opportunity.

Regardless of any equity, though, individuals buried in the cannabis industry‘s roots often refer to state funding programs as non-viable carrots. This is because legalization was botched, elsewhere. Regulated cannabis has been far too limited in quantity, quality, and riddled with too many problems to meet demand. Due to these shortfalls, legacy retailers in some jurisdictions and countries have been against transitioning to a less accessible platform.

Remember that attempts at social equity programs in other states have failed to potentiate the market. Hopeful entrepreneurs branching into California’s legal industry faced many hoops. One challenge included a $10,000 retainer for an attorney. There was also California’s great race for the first 100 social equity applicants in 2019. Sadly, this attempt to deliver cannabis retail licenses included a fixed computer system as proven by an audit according to the LA Times. (4)

While legalization has the potential to be successful with the right plan. Will storefronts operated, not owned by prisoners of the cannabis industry settle any social injustice inflicted by the drug war? Or will ushering in wrongly convicted individuals as the face of legal cannabis sales in New York counterintuitively create more harmful bureaucracy?

Let us know what you think of social equity programs in the cannabis space in the comments. And check out this story to read about steps taken in New York to ensure better access to medical cannabis.


Fund means a social and economic equity fund in which the state, any state agency, public authority, public benefit corporation, or division thereof has invested and is formed for the limited purpose of funding costs, which include, but are not limited to construction, renovations and equipment purchasing associated with establishing or developing adult-use cannabis operators.

Part 116 – Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary. New York. 2022.


  1. Villeneuve, M. 2022. 1st NY pot sales permits will go to people with convictions. AP News.
  2. Part 116. Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary. New York. Ch II. Subtitle B. Title 9. Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York.
  3. McKinley, J. And Ashford, G. 2022. New Yorkers With Marijuana Convictions Will Get First Retail Licenses. The NY Times.
  4. Gerber, M. 2022. California promised ‘social equity’ after pot legalization. Those hit hardest feel betrayed. LA Times.
  5. Conditional Cannabis Cultivation Bill. New York. 2022.


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