WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (PIX11) — The first licenses to legally sell marijuana in New York State will go to people who have had marijuana-related convictions in the past, or have had a close relative who’s been involved in a marijuana case. That’s what the state’s Cannabis Control Board concluded on Thursday, at the urging of Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The move is intended to correct historical wrongs against New York communities that have been impacted by harsh anti-marijuana laws in the state over most of the last half century.
A longstanding resident of this community said that the licensing plan is the right thing for the state to do.
“I had to spend a night in jail,” said Ramon Reyes, in talking about the first time he’d gotten arrested on a marijuana charge.
That was for getting caught smoking marijuana, in the 1980s, even though police never produced evidence that he’d actually been smoking.
He ended up also being arrested later for selling marijuana.
“I ended up having to do five years probation,” he said in an interview near the corner on Broadway where he’d consumed and sold marijuana for years. The probation conviction, he said, had had a strong impact.
“We had lawyer fees,” and other expenses, he said, “that affected my family’s finances, and we don’t have a lot of money.”
In contrast to that past, Reyes could become the owner of one of the state’s first legal cannabis-selling businesses, now that the Cannabis Control Board has approved the new rule, granting the first 100 or so cannabis sales licenses for people who’ve been arrested in marijuana-related cases.
Gov. Hochul has advocated for the change. Mayor Eric Adams also endorsed the state’s plan, on Thursday.
He said that it wasn’t enough that people in communities of color are most likely to receive the lion’s share of the new licenses. He also said that they should be active in every aspect of the recreational cannabis business.
“They should be front in line growing [marijuana], front in line in every aspect of it,” the mayor said on Thursday.
However, Andrew Lieb, the managing partner at Lieb at Law, P.C., which specializes in discrimination litigation, said that the new measure is likely to face legal pushback.
“I very much imagine that someone’s going to bring a case,” Lieb said. “[They’ll] sue, and say that this is a discriminatory regulation and statute and application in the social equity applicants, which is unfortunate, but the law.”
However, Reyes, who’s been arrested and convicted in at least two marijuana cases related to the now-defunct Rockefeller Drug Laws, said that the state’s new proposal is an act of justice.
“It’s gonna give jobs,” he said. “It’s gonna give ownership to the community, not to a corporation or somebody who is already generating that source of money. It’s gonna affect families, and just the projection of how people look at weed.”
Reyes is the co-owner of the cannabis events and merchandising company HappyMunkey. His experience in a business that already is related to cannabis may give him an advantage in applying for a license. Whether it does or not, the application process will not be short. The state has said that it intends to issue licenses by the end of they year.