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For central New Yorkers in cannabis, opening dispensaries is a waiting game

Karli Miller-Hornick is cofounder of Cortland’s Florist Farms.
New York Hemp Oil
Karli Miller-Hornick is cofounder of Cortland’s Florist Farms.

With central New York affected by a court case preventing cannabis dispensaries in the region, those in the cannabis business are in a waiting game.

Conditional dispensaries for cannabis in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson and Brooklyn are in limbo due to a Michigan company's lawsuit alleging the state's conditional adult-use retail dispensary license requirements discriminate against out-of-state applicants.

Jim Charon, chair of the Central New York Chapter of the Cannabis Association of New York, said the state is doing what it can to ramp up the cannabis industry despite the lawsuit.

"If you've got people throwing roadblocks in front of them, it's not the state that's causing it," Charon said. "Any law, any regulation can be brought into interpretation and there can be a lawsuit. But is it a valid lawsuit or is it just a waste of time?"

Mike Flynn is looking to open FlynnStoned in the Armory Square area of Syracuse. The three-story, 13,000-square-foot facility building is ready and he has distributors lined up but he's in limbo without a retail license.

"People like me have establishments already built out," Flynn said. "We're just sitting here waiting. No banks will work with us so everything that I've done to this day is all through cash."

Licenses for retail dispensaries are being distributed with an emphasis on individuals disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

"New York was once recognized as the cannabis-arrest capital of the nation," Lyla Hunt, deputy director of public health and campaigns for the New York Office of Cannabis Management said in a recent meeting. "As we move forward and build this new industry, it is critical that we recognize the history of cannabis in New York and use it as a framework to do better."

Flynn applied under the qualifying business criteria — he meets it from having a marijuana-related offense in the state prior to recreational legalization.

"Selling weed was the first job I've ever had and it'll be the last job I ever have," Flynn said. "I started selling weed when I was 12 years old in sixth grade and all throughout my teenage years. I was 24 years old when I made my last marijuana sale."

Other retail distribution licenses were given to nonprofits throughout the state which have histories of serving and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.

That's how Karli Miller-Hornick, CEO and co-founder of Florist Farms in Cortland, started selling at the Housing Works dispensary in Manhattan.

"Florist Farms launched with five different strains of flower, pre-rolls joints, gummies and vapes," Miller-Hornick said. "We were the very first product bought in the very first legal dispensary in New York State by the director of the Office of Cannabis Management."

Florist Farms products available in the first state operated cannabis dispensary
Michael Harinen (New York Hemp Oil)
Florist Farms products available in the first state operated cannabis dispensary

Miller-Hornick said the demand has been outrageous.

"We were actually really surprised because there's a lot of people worried that there's a lot of illegal shops in New York City," Miller-Hornick said. "I think we were all really surprised at how big the turnout was and in talking to people in line, people were really excited about having products that they could trust that were lab tested."

Florist Farms products are now available at the recently opened Just Breathe in Binghamton, the first state cannabis dispensary open in upstate New York. Miller-Hornick said she also hopes to sell products closer to home — hoping to work with Ithaca area Challenge Industries, one of the nonprofits granted a license for dispensary. Products are also set to be in Flynnstoned once the business receives its license.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.