How to Open a Dispensary in New York

New York has long been a business, entertainment, and culture hub. As such, the fact that New York is now the 15th U.S. state to legalize adult-use cannabis is sure to have far-reaching implications. While this news is inspiring, hopeful entrepreneurs have had to remain patient when opening dispensaries in New York. 

Like the rest of the cannabis industry, the New York market is young and undergoing significant changes. Medical cannabis was first legalized in 2014, and the first medical dispensary licenses were awarded in 2015. Yet, due mainly to the progressive nature of New York City, discussions turned almost immediately to legalizing adult-use cannabis. In March 2021, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that legalized adult-use cannabis. 

With cultivation and processor licenses already issued and the retail dispensary application process underway, excitement is mounting in the Empire State. As the adult-use market in New York continues to take shape, key things to keep in mind include social equity and conditional licensing. Moreover, as New York continues to work towards a functional adult-use market, new dispensary application windows will indeed open in the future.

How to Apply for a New York Dispensary License

MOST Consulting Group has experience developing applications and winning licenses for dispensaries and cultivators in a number of medical and adult-use states. We can help guide you through the entire process, write the application, and maximize your chances of success. If you'd like more information on our application writing and consulting services, you can read our service page about cannabis licensing or contact us today — we'll explain how MOST can help.


Early Plans for the New York Adult Use Market

In July 2021, the legalization of adult-use cannabis in New York was officially signed into law. The historic Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act” states that adults can legally possess up to 3 oz of flowers and 24 grams of concentrates. The document also began to lay the framework for cannabis business dealings in the Empire State. 

Considering how many people live in New York state, business opportunities in the medical cannabis market have been minimal. Before the legalization of adult-use cannabis, there have been only 36 dispensaries in a state that houses almost 20 million residents. This imbalance has created some real anticipation for opening more dispensary doors, especially for adult-use customers. 

After passing the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) released information on what types of adult-use dispensary licenses would be issued. 

According to initial info from the OCM, applicants for adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses in New York will have the following options to choose from: 

Adult-Use Microbusiness Licenses: in New York will be offered to certain applicants. These licenses will be issued to vertically integrated cannabis businesses operating under certain size constraints. 

Adult-Use Retail Dispensary Licenses: will be the bulk of the adult-use dispensary licenses issued in New York. It remains unclear how many of these retail licenses will be awarded. 

Adult-Use On-Site Consumption Licenses: are special retail sales licenses. With these licenses, dispensaries will feature consumption areas where cannabis products can be directly on site.  

Adult-Use Delivery Licenses: will be issued to people who do not “have an interest in or own another adult-use license type.” 

Registered Organization Adult-Use Cultivator, Processor, Distributor, Retail Dispensary Licenses: these are classic vertically-integrated cannabis business licenses. There appear to be specific regulations on what types of products can be sold in these dispensaries. 

Please note that none of these dispensary license types have yet been issued. However, current activities in the New York Market are working towards the goal of getting these licenses issued.

Current Adult-Use Cannabis Licenses in New York

While New York has made serious headway in getting its adult-use market up and running, there is still a long way to go. As of fall 2022, none of the original adult-use dispensary licenses presented by the OCM have been issued. Instead, cultivators, processors, and dispensaries are being given "conditional licenses” to help get the adult-use market launched.
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The current status of different conditional adult-use cannabis licenses in New York include: 

Adult-Use Conditional Cultivator Licenses: in July 2022, New York issued its first 52 adult-use cultivation licenses in preparation for sales when dispensaries open. 

Adult-Use Conditional Processor: in July 2022, New York approved 15 processor licenses for existing hemp companies. These businesses will primarily conduct extraction operations. 

Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD): in mid-August 2022, New York began accepting license applications for adult-use dispensaries. Following social equity protocol, these licenses will only be issued to "justice-involved individuals” who suffered cannabis-related convictions due to the drug war. 

The OCM plans on issuing about 150 CAURD licenses dispersed throughout 14 regions in New York State.

The Dispensary Application Process in New York

Aside from the CAURD application process, there have been no additional adult-use dispensary opportunities yet in New York state. However, the industry is doubtlessly working towards opening more adult-use dispensaries in the near future. As seen with CAURD licensing, future adult-use dispensary applications will be handled by the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM).

CAURD License Applications

In an unprecedented move, New York is strictly offering the first 150 adult-use dispensary licenses to people who were negatively impacted by the drug war. There are “two sets of eligibility criteria that New York is using to award winners of CAURD licenses. These sets of eligibility criteria are split between traditional business models and nonprofits. 

Qualifying Business Criteria: application documentation must meet specific criteria related to justice-involved individuals and relevant business experience. 

Qualifying Nonprofit Criteria: application documentation must meet specific criteria related to working with incarcerated people, serving justice-involved individuals, and having a least one justice-involved board member or officer.

Future Adult-Use Dispensary Opportunities in New York

It can't be denied the New York cannabis industry has impressive potential. Sources such as The New York Times estimate the adult-use market could generate $4.2 billion annually. 

At this point, without a specific timeframe in place for dispensary license applications beyond the CAURD program, the best that people can do right now is to get organized. By getting your “ducks in a row” now, you will better your chances of getting a dispensary license when the time finally comes. 

As you wait for more updates on the New York adult-use market, Most Consulting recommends you take the following steps:

  • Pay attention to the New York Office of Cannabis Management website.
  • Study the application process in other adult-use markets. You can rest assured that New York will not “reinvent the wheel” for cannabis dispensary applications. As such, anticipate the point system and everything that comes with it.
  • Research Social and Economic Equity measures in the New York cannabis industry. 
  • Investigate which regions of New York are cannabis-friendly. Importantly, counties and municipalities can vote to ban cannabis dispensaries if they see fit. 
  • Study the established medical cannabis industry in New York. In doing so, you will better understand competition and opportunity in the adult-use vertical.

New York Dispensary Application Support

Cannabis presents a very precarious industry to do business, especially in transforming markets like New York. As such, if you are looking to open a cannabis dispensary in New York, you are best discussing your plans with a professional consulting firm like MOST. 

As a leading cannabis consulting company, MOST is constantly paying attention to industry news and developments. With up-to-date knowledge on such a volatile business, we can give the appropriate guidance in entering new markets, as seen in New York.

Contact Us today for questions about opening a cannabis dispensary.