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Public forum set for Wednesday in Schenectady on conditional adult-use marijuana dispensary licenses

Jesse King

Schenectady residents will be able to ask questions during a public meeting tonight on conditional adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses in New York.

Staff from the New York Office of Cannabis Management are scheduled to be on hand in Schenectady to answer questions about retail marijuana sales.

Tonight’s forum at the Schenectady County Public Library’s central branch is focused specifically on conditional dispensary licenses.

Under the conditional program, 200 dispensary licenses will be provided to individuals or family members of those convicted of marijuana crimes prior to March 31st, 2021, when the state legalized recreational marijuana.

Speaking with Schenectady City Council members on Monday, the state Office of Cannabis Management’s Phillip Rumsey explained the conditional licensing system – for which final regulations have not yet been issued – is designed to avoid missteps made in other states.

Rumsey said in many cases, dispensary licenses are awarded to established, large companies.

“We know from experience and looking at other states that individuals with large amounts of money – or corporations with large amounts of money – they can come in and instantly take what’s called the seed to sale, which is everything from putting the seed into the ground all the way to selling. And they can very quickly gobble up the industry,” said Rumsey.

An application period for conditional cultivation licenses closes at the end of June.

The conditional licenses are separate from nine other types of licenses under the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The MRTA legislation has a goal of awarding 50 percent of licenses to social equity candidates. Rumsey explained conditional licenses have a social equity element to them, but said they’re separate from the so-called MRTA licenses.

“With the conditional licensing system – with the cultivators and the dispensaries – we have the potential to leapfrog virtually every state in the country when it comes to providing assistance and actual businesses to social equity candidates,” said Rumsey.

Under the conditional dispensary license model, applicants must have operated a profitable business for at least two years. Partnerships may be allowed, but “justice-involved” applicants must have a majority stake in the business.

Nevillene White, Office of Cannabis Management Manager of Community Relations and External Affairs, said zero-interest loans will be made available to those awarded conditional licenses.

“It’s turnkey dispensary. There’s money set aside to help folks. So basically they’re giving you a business already set up, location, everything…and you are to run with the business, with loans of course…” said White.

Though the public comment period on conditional dispensary licenses is closed, White said outreach efforts will not be limited to tonight’s meeting.

“And this is a continuous conversation and plans to be in Schenectady continues as more and more information comes out so we can stay connected with the community,” said White.

The first dispensaries could open in New York State by the end of the year.

Under MRTA, taxes on cannabis sales will be directed to a dedicated reserve fund. From there, 40 percent of revenues will go toward education, 20 percent toward drug therapy and rehabilitation, and the remaining 40 percent would be distributed to communities disproportionally impacted by the War on Drugs.

Speaking with WAMC’s Alan Chartock Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul said she views New York’s adult-use cannabis program as an opportunity to right wrongs of the past, particularly among Black and brown communities.

“Because the police were patrolling their neighborhoods more than they were elsewhere,” said Hochul. “But I guarantee there are teenagers in suburban areas too that were partaking in marijuana and not getting caught and not having their lives turned upside down and they sure didn’t end up in Rikers over it. So this is an issue of, you know, it's an economic issue. But it's also one of social justice. But to write the wrong, the important part is to bring the economic benefits directly to those communities that were hardest hit.”

Tonight’s free public meeting on conditional dispensary licenses begins at 6 p.m. sharp at the Honorable Karen B. Johnson Library Branch at 99 Clinton Street in Schenectady.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.