NEW YORK (PIX11) – New York legalized marijuana in 2021, yet there are only a handful of legal marijuana dispensaries in the state.

When weed was first legalized, the New York State Cannabis Control Board and the Office of Cannabis Management initially stated about 150 licenses would become available. Under Gov. Kathy Hochul, that number was doubled to 300 in March 2023.

To date, there are only eight licensed dispensaries in New York City and 23 open weed dispensaries in the state, according to the New York Office of Cannabis

The reason for the shortfall lies between two factors: bureaucracy and lawsuits. 


Entrepreneurs who want to open a dispensary need to first apply for a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary License also known as CUARD.

A CUARD comes with its own set of regulations and processes that one must follow to obtain a license. That process has also led to at least two lawsuits against the Office of Cannabis Management, which oversees approvals for weed licenses. 

NY weed dispensary lawsuits

A marijuana dispensary license is a hot ticket these days.

Earlier in August, a group of military veterans filed a lawsuit alleging the state’s Office of Cannabis Management created a licensing system that is at odds with the state’s recreational marijuana law. The veterans argued the system improperly prioritized people with drug convictions rather than a wider category of social equity applicants.

A New York judge then temporarily blocked the state from issuing any more retail marijuana licenses. 

The judge’s order was just the latest legal setback for the state’s marijuana market, which has had a slow rollout. Many critics have blamed the cumbersome process designed to give the first round of licenses to people with prior drug convictions or to certain types of nonprofit groups.

On Friday, weeks after the judge initially blocked new marijuana dispensaries from opening, State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant lifted the injunction for 23 dispensaries that were previously deemed ready to open. 

But on Monday, Bryant reversed his decision and upheld the temporary restraining order preventing any new dispensaries from opening, leaving 400 New Yorkers in limbo and some headed into bankruptcy after pouring their life savings into their business that has yet to bloom. 

The order halting the state’s dispensary licensing program came after another lawsuit was filed by a company owned by a Michigan resident who argued New York’s licensing system unconstitutionally favors New Yorkers over out-of-state residents. 

This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press, and PIX11 News reporter Ayana Harry