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First NY cannabis licenses to go to hemp farmers and those impacted by war on drugs

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The first licenses to sell recreational marijuana in New York will go to people who were impacted by the war on drugs and hemp farmers.

The state detailed its “seeding opportunity initiative” Thursday saying that people with marijuana-related convictions will be among those who get first dibs on the retail cannabis licenses awarded by the New York. Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander says this subset of dispensaries must be owned by equity-entrepreneurs with a prior cannabis-related criminal offense who also have a background operating a small business.

“To my last count, the state has arrested over almost a million people over the last 20 years for cannabis offenses,” Alexander said. “And several, a lot of those individuals have then gone on to open and operate successful businesses. Small businesses that will become the backbone of this market.”

The Cannabis Control Board also approved a license application for hemp farmers seeking to grow adult-use cannabis as soon as this spring. The application portal for farmers will open March 15, while applications for the so-called equity owners will open in the summer.

"New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past," said Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statement. "The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I'm proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building."

Born and raised in Eden, NY, Jim has been WAMC’s Associate News Director since October 2016. Since 2020, Jim has hosted WAMC's main news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. From 2013 to 2016, he worked as WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief for three years. Jim is also the producer of the podcast A New York Minute In History. He previously worked as a reporter, producer and anchor at WAER, an NPR member station in Syracuse. He has experience in Top 40 radio and has spent time with NPR member station WBFO and CBS-affiliate WIVB-TV, both in Buffalo.