Cannabis expert had ‘near perfect application’ for a license but ‘didn’t win the lottery’

Cannabis expert far down the list for legal marijuana license

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

When the state’s Cannabis Control Board recently awarded legal marijuana licenses like a lottery, it weighted picks to favor women, minority, veteran and farmer applicants.

As a result, it’s now facing two discrimination lawsuits and it put some applicants so far down on the list they might never get a license.

One of those applicants invited News10NBC to see the expensive empty space that might leave. 

Steve VanDeWalle took me into what he hopes is his future cannabis retail and micro-business. Think of a craft brewery for marijuana.

He is renting 10,000 square feet on the west side of Rochester to cultivate, process and sell it.

“This is going to be my kitchen,” he said pointing to an empty room.
This isn’t a lark. VanDeWalle has been tip of the spear to legalize marijuana. Four years ago he testified to state lawmakers and advised them on how to set the system up.

Because he has the space ready, he was able to file his application in October. But because the state gave extra weight to applications from select groups of people, the system made him number 1,967 on a list of 2,232 applicants.

“Now there’s close to 1,700 or 1,800 of us applicants who are all sitting on buildings and have been preparing for this for six years, may not get a shot for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Brean: “Did you think you had a shot at one of these licenses because of all the work and preparation you put in?”
Steve VanDeWalle, prospective cannabis dispensary owner: “I definitely thought I had a shot. I had a near perfect application.”
Brean: “You just didn’t win the lottery.”
Steve VanDeWalle: “I didn’t win the lottery.”

A federal lawsuit filed two weeks ago in Syracuse by a group of white business owners alleges discrimination. A state lawsuit filed this week in Albany by a group of women alleges the lottery system is flawed.

We reached VanDeWalle’s lawyer on FaceTime. FL Gorman brought up the problem of thousands of illegal marijuana shops.

“And yesterday I heard some number over 30,000,” he said. “Certainly one and maybe the best way to combat the illegal stores is to open up the legal stores.”

When the state awarded what it calls micro-business licenses — similar to a craft beer license and the one VanDeWalle applied for — Rochester got two. The second largest city upstate got two.

This week, the governor told the Buffalo News the cannabis rollout is a “a disaster.”