Applicants awaiting NYS decision on legal marijuana licenses

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — New York is currently reviewing applications from approximately 900 people who want to be the first in the state to legally sell marijuana. 

The New York State Office of Cannabis Management is hoping to achieve social equity in the rollout of the legal market by offering the first round of conditional licenses to those who’ve previously been arrested for marijuana-related offenses, but some applicants say the application process hasn’t made that easy.

Another prerequisite for consideration in the first round is a requirement that the applicant is the owner of a business that has been profitable, on the books, for at least two years.  

See our series “Cannabis Countdown” about what NYS can expect when dispensaries open:

Willie Thomas meets those requirements but spoke with News10NBC about the process he’s gone through to apply and the money he’s already had to invest just to be considered. 

In 2013, Thomas was walking down Child Street in Rochester with a known drug dealer when an RPD officer approached the pair.

“He was like, ‘Oh you’re walking with him you must have weed too,” Thomas said. “And I’m like, I did but … it’s like I’m just walking down the street. I actually had just left the store so I had my groceries in my hand. They took my groceries and they were like, ‘Yep, we’re going in your pocket and they found the weed.’”

Thomas admits he didn’t show up for his court date so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“I didn’t know about New York State law so I was like, ‘Oh I got a warrant,’” Thomas said. “‘I’m going to go to jail. If I get a real job they’re gonna run my name, so it’s like you’re just living under the radar scared of going to jail.’”

Three years later, he tried to run when the police found him. In the end, he spent 60 days in county jail.

“I lost my car,” Thomas said. “I didn’t have anybody to watch my stuff. My house got broken into, all my stuff. I came home, all my stuff was stolen.”

Thomas had to rebuild his life and he did that by starting his own business. 

“I run a business called KandyKoolers LLC,” Thomas said. “I sell mostly slushies and I cater events, parties, weddings, birthday parties, I do a lot of kid events.”

Thomas still has a passion for and is a consumer of cannabis. When New York State announced a pathway for people like Thomas, who’ve been harmed by the prohibition of the plant, to be first in line to sell it legally, he was interested. 

“This might be my chance at starting over and creating generational wealth for my child and for my family,” he said.

Thomas has the two years of profitable business experience the state is looking for but that small business has small margins and the application process has been a bit cumbersome and expensive. It was $2,000 just to apply. 

“I don’t have $150/hour to give to a CPA or lawyers right now,” he said. “They’re trying to charge $10,000 just to look at your application and go over your paperwork and it’s like so how are the people who are really justice-involved and supposed to be social equity, are they really going to be able to get into it?”

Thomas started the Monroe Minority Marijuana Alliance, a group of legacy operators in Rochester who are considering the legal market.

“A lot of people are looking at me to see what happened,” he said. “Here’s a lot of guys who are really scared. They really don’t know. They feel like maybe it’s just best if I stay on the outskirts and never come to the light.”

With only nine licenses up for grabs in the entire Finger Lakes Region during the first round, Thomas is hoping for the best

“Hopefully, if we have a lot of faces that look like mine are able to get these licenses, it shows them that we can do it, this is real,” he said.

The NYS Office of Cannabis Management is currently reviewing applications. It hasn’t given a specific timetable of when it will make a final decision on licenses but Executive Director Chris Alexander said this week he’s hoping to have some dispensaries open by the end of the year.