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State Cannabis Regulators Vote To Settle Lawsuit That Blocked Dispensaries From Opening

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A jar of cannabis from Herbal IQ-Rochester, a so-called "growers showcase" on East Avenue.

State Cannabis Regulators Vote To Settle Lawsuit That Blocked Dispensaries From Opening

The state Cannabis Control Board on Monday approved a settlement that could end a lawsuit which had stalled the opening of dispensaries across the state.

The board, which sets regulations for the state cannabis industry, met Monday to vote on the proposed settlement.

State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant, the judge handling the lawsuit, still has to sign off on the settlement and dismiss the case.

“Today's approval of the settlement agreement by the New York State Cannabis Control Board marks a momentous step forward in our mission to cultivate a diverse and inclusive cannabis market,” Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, said in a statement. “Once this settlement is approved, we are hopeful those impacted by the injunction will be empowered to open their storefronts and embark on their entrepreneurial journeys, bringing us closer to our goals.

Carmine Fiore, William Norgard, Steve Mejia, and Dominic Spaccio filed a lawsuit against the Cannabis Control Board on August 2. They’re all service-disabled veterans who had planned to open recreational cannabis dispensaries.

Their complaint took aim at the state’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or CAURD, licenses. Those licenses were intended to alleviate damage from years of cannabis criminalization by putting individuals who had previous cannabis convictions at the front of the line to open a legal dispensary.

Service-disabled veterans are among those designated as benefactors for social justice initiatives under the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which legalized adult-used marijuana in New York, but were not able to access the CAURD licenses.

But the complaint argued that action was unconstitutional and that the Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management “improperly assumed the role of the Legislature to impose their own social and economic policies over those of New York’s elected officials and, by extension, their constituents.”

An injunction issued by the judge in August has prevented about 400 CAURD licensees from opening any new dispensaries.

This was not the first legal challenge to the CAURD program that held up the rollout of legal weed in the Finger Lakes. Michigan resident Kenneth Gay filed a lawsuit arguing that a provision requiring licensees to be New York residents was unconstitutional. That case has been resolved, though the Finger Lakes region became the last to get the green light to open recreational dispensaries.

That suit was settled in late May. No dispensaries opened in the Finger Lakes in the time between that settlement and the second injunction. While the Rochester region has several cannabis “growers showcases” where growers and processors can sell directly to the public, no dispensaries have opened.

In a statement, Sen. Jeremy Cooney, chair of the State Senate’s subcommittee on cannabis, said the settlement approved Monday paves a path forward for legal weed.

“I’m pleased this legal challenge is behind us and we can focus on the future of the cannabis industry in New York,” said Senator Jeremy Cooney. “My priority is to jumpstart the legal retail market to ensure safe and legal cannabis access across the state. We made a promise to New Yorkers to create the most equitable marketplace in the nation, and we still have work to do.”

This story was originally published on 11/27/2023 on WBFO.