Medical Marijuana Providers Sue New York Agencies For Favoring People With Past Pot Violations

A coalition including some New York-based medical marijuana companies sued state cannabis regulators on Thursday, seeking to open up licensing immediately for all applicants seeking to operate retail dispensaries. 

The suit, filed in state court in Albany, claims that state cannabis regulators exceeded their legal authority when they opened up their initial pool of applicants in August only to individuals with a history of pot violations or relatives, rather than everyone. 

The suit names the states Marijuana Control Board and the Marijuana Enforcement Administration, along with senior officials, as defendants. Offering priority access to individuals with a history of marijuana-related convictions, or to those related to them, is an effort to create opportunities for people most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, which has led to the disproportionate arrest rate of black and Latino individuals. 

According to the memorandum filed in the suit, the marijuana regulatory commission had “overstepped their rule-making authority” and had consequently “indefinitely postponed the licensing of the hundreds of additional dispensaries necessary to satisfy consumer demand and to displace the illicit markets.”

The suit comes as New York is trying to put the potential massive legal market in full gear nearly two years after legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use. 

So far, it has awarded 66 licenses for dispensaries. The state’s fifth shop, a dispensary in Ithaca, is scheduled to open on Thursday. 

The suit was filed by Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis, a trade association representing licensed, registered medical marijuana providers including Curaleaf, Green Thumb Industries, Acreage Holdings, and Pharmacann. 

The companies were not allowed to access the adult-use market in the state due to the state’s restricted licensing schedule, according to a Coalition spokeswoman.

This isn’t the first time that a state’s marijuana licensing process has been challenged legally. 

In November, a judge temporarily blocked New York City from issuing marijuana dispensary licenses in Brooklyn and parts of upstate New York, after a company called Variscite NY One claimed the state’s screening process unfairly favors residents from within the state rather than those from outside. Meanwhile, unlicensed pot stores and trucks popped up across the state.

The suit contends that had the licenses been open to all applicants, it would have curbed illegal shopfronts and generated sufficient tax revenue for reinvestment into local communities—a crucial provision in a law that legalized recreational marijuana.