Here comes more New York cannabis program litigation.

After one lawsuit halted a significant portion of New York Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program, a new lawsuit filed on March 16, 2023 by the Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis against the Cannabis Control Board (CCB), Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), CCB Chairwoman Tremaine Wright and OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander seeks to abolish the CAURD program in its entirety and open the retail dispensary application portal now.

As first reported by Brad Racino of NY Cannabis Insider, the coalition includes several New York registered organizations (i.e. medical cannabis providers), including Acreage Holdings, PharmaCann, Green Thumb Industries and Curaleaf, two potential retail dispensary applicants and a medical cannabis practitioner.

Here’s what the “petitioner” is requesting from a legal perspective:

  • a judicial declaration that the OCM’s creation of the CAURD program exceeded the OCM’s authority under New York’s constitution (i.e. abolishing the CAURD program completely);
  • a judicial order requiring the CCB and OCM to open the adult-use retail dispensary application window immediately (i.e. letting anyone apply now); and
  • a judicial order requiring the CCB and OCM to take action to stop illicit and unlicensed cannabis businesses.

Here’s the fulcrum of the policy argument (setting aside the technical constitution and procedural argument):

“Defendants-Respondents’ arbitrary and capricious foray into legislative policymaking has (i) harmed those individuals the MRTA was designed to benefit (e.g., veterans, women-owned businesses, distressed hemp farmers and those communities most affected by the War on Drugs to name just a few), and (ii) diverted Defendants-Respondents’ attention from the enforcement tasks with which the MRTA entrusts them. As a result, Defendants-Respondents have allowed New York’s illicit market to flourish, putting medical patients and adult-use consumers at risk and robbing communities impacted by the War on Drugs of critical tax revenue. Thus, as of this writing, only four licensed adult-use retail dispensaries are open in the entire State of New York.11 Meanwhile, thousands of illicit retailers are selling unregulated, untested, and untaxed cannabis products of questionable origin and dubious safety across the State. In fact, it is estimated that there are 1,400 stores retailing illicit cannabis in New York City alone.”

The petition also takes the OCM and CCB to task for their alleged practical failures to establish New York’s legal adult-use cannabis industry:

“In short, OCM and CCB have failed to fulfill their principal responsibility under the MRTA. Instead, Defendants-Respondents have (i) taken twenty months to propose a set of regulations for the adult-use marketplace and still have not finalized or promulgated them; (ii) routinely violated – and continue to violate – the State Administrative Procedure Act by governing through an ever-changing set of guidance documents to regulate cultivators and processors because final rules still do not exist; (iii) licensed only sixty-odd CAURD dispensaries – only four of which have opened; (iv) promised to provide CAURD licensees state-subsidized real estate and government loans but it has delivered neither; (v) induced New York’s conditional adult-use cannabis cultivators to grow 350,000 pounds of flower in 2022 without creating an adequate retail infrastructure to sell it; and (vi) waged a thinly veiled attack against the registered organizations that has harmed – and continues to harm – the existing medical market and threatens to impede their expansion into the adult-use market.”

There is obviously a lot to unpack here, but it’s not particularly surprising that New York cannabis industry stakeholders are taking action to try to move the licensing process forward. With the full application portal still closed and no clear indication on when it will open, this litigation was an obvious (and potentially the only option) to force the OCM and CCB to take action. Stay tuned!

Simon Malinowski

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