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State Supreme Court Judge Temporarily Shuts Down Marijuana Licensing

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Four Military Vets Secure Temporary Restraining Order Against NYS — Blocking New Cannabis Licenses


Four military veterans secured a temporary restraining order against New York State, blocking the Office of Cannabis Management from issuing new cannabis licenses.

The veterans claimed they were unable to secure retail licenses because the State illegally favored “justice involved” applicants over others. A similar suit was filed in March by Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis.

The veterans charged that cannabis regulators committed “unconstitutional overreach” when it created a system awarding licenses that gave priority to applicants with prior marijuana convictions and their immediate family members.

The restraining order was signed Monday by Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant, halting new licenses pending a hearing set for Friday morning in Kingston. The Cannabis Control Board is not meeting again until September. New licenses are generally issued at public meetings.

The order prohibits regulators from “processing” or “conferring operational approval” of pending licenses. It specifically blocks regulators from issuing new licenses and from allowing approved operators that have not yet opened their doors from opening dispensaries.

Justice Bryant ruled that the restraining order was necessary because “there is genuine urgency and that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result” if the licensing program moves forward.

Although the 2021 licensing law defines, “social and economic equity applicants” as people from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and service-disabled veterans, OCM has only addressed those impacted by cannabis enforcement — closing the door on other applicants similarly eligible to apply and receive licenses. In other words, the legislature did not specify that “justice involved” applicants should get priority over service-disabled veterans and women or minority owned businesses.

The petition filed in state Supreme Court in Albany last week accuses officials of changing the rules established by the Legislature that required “the initial adult-use cannabis retail dispensary license application period shall be opened for all applicants at the same time.”

The four veteran plaintiffs charged that the Office of Cannabis Management failed to follow New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), in part by not issuing licenses to disabled service veterans and other minority groups.

463 conditional retail licenses were issued to applicants with prior cannabis convictions. A few non-profit agencies have also received approvals to open dispensaries.

“It’s out of character for a veteran to sue the state to uphold a law,” William Norgard, a U.S. Army veteran and one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement issued by a public relations firm announcing the lawsuit. “We take oaths to defend the laws of our nation, and trust — maybe naively — that government officials will faithfully and legally execute those laws. What the Office of Cannabis Management is doing right now is in complete breach of that trust. As veterans, we know that someone has to hold the line.”

The marijuana enabling legislations set a goal of awarding 50 percent of all retail marijuana retail licenses to social and economic equity applicants, which regulators read gave them the authority to give priority those with cannabis convictions or their family members.

The Office of Cannabis Management does not comment on pending litigation.