The second cannabis injunction for the Finger Lakes, explained

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New York State is experiencing yet another pause on pot. A second lawsuit involving Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses has been filed against New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), and with it came an injunction that puts a pause on current and future dispensary licenses for New York.

It was brought forward by four disabled veterans, who claim that the OCM’s licensing process is not constitutional, because it violates New York State’s separation of powers.

Under New York’s current method, the four are ineligible for CAURD licenses, because the state is prioritizing people who are justice-involved. Within this context, to be justice-involved is to either have a criminal cannabis conviction or a relative with one.

The plaintiffs are saying that the choice to prioritize that group of people isn’t constitutional – and New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant agreed.

In his 16-page decision, he quoted the laws that legalized cannabis in the first place – the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), which created the OCM. The act says the OCM must “promote diversity” and give 50% of licenses to “individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.”

Those groups include minority- and/or women-owned businesses, “distressed farmers,” and service-related veterans.

Bryant’s decision agrees with the plaintiffs – the law details several licenses, but say nothing about the CAURD licenses and their prioritization of justice-involved people. That was created by the OCM, and was actually struck down from being incorporated into the MRTA, according to Bryant’s decision.

The plaintiffs argue that the OCM doesn’t get to make the laws, just enforce them. The judge agrees, quoting previous decisions that “the repeated failures of the legislature to arrive at such an agreement do not automatically entitle an administrative agency to take it upon itself to fill the vacuum and impose a solution of its own.”

The injunction hits especially hard in the Finger Lakes region, following its six-months standstill when a similar case was filed by Michigan-based company Variscite NY One. The case argued that the New York residency requirement was unconstitutional. They settled in May after Variscite was given a CAURD license and permission to operate in New York. Bryant’s decision insinuates that this case will go a similar way.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the state of legal cannabis in New York. Bryant included an out for the dozens of licensees either already operating or very close to opening their doors – if they had all the necessary paperwork and preparation completed prior to August 7, they would be granted an exception to the injunction, and allowed to continue operating and/or opening.

When it’s released later this week, MJ Dispensary owner and CAURD license holder Ryan Martin hopes to find himself on it. He’s been working for nearly two years to open a legal cannabis store.

“For [the Finger Lakes] to be held up the longest is really a punch to the gut, so we’re trying to do everything in our power to get this store open for consumers,” he said.

Because of a prior cannabis arrest, Martin was eligible for a CAURD license – and was the twelfth person in the state to apply.

“Whether or not it’s fair, that’s not for me to decide,” he said. “The OCM and New York State decided to implement this process, and we are just going along with the implementation. […] I understand why this is happening with the disabled vets.”

Martin said he’s been reaching out to local legislators, and may even make a trip to Albany if he’s not included on the OCM’s exemption list. The lawsuit has already put him two weeks behind schedule for his goal of opening in September.

“Starting a business in New York State especially is not an easy process,” he said. “Starting a business in a new marketplace, you’re going to run into hurdles.”

But Martin said he won’t lose hope. Even if he doesn’t get granted an exemption, Martin said he’ll have the opportunity to appeal individually, and be given a chance to prove he’s ready to open and operate legally. If that fails, Martin said the OCM has invited the CAURD licensees to the general application this fall, where they will be fast-tracked.

“You just have to keep a positive attitude — you just have to keep pushing forward and hope, you know, that things will work out,” Martin said.

News10NBC reached out several times to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and did not hear back. The OCM provided the following statement:

“The Office of Cannabis Management’s mission is to establish a first-of-its-kind, adult-use cannabis market that works to right the wrongs of the past, and we are proud of the work we’ve done to achieve that goal. We are reviewing the recent Court decision and will be in touch with all licensees to discuss the path forward but we will absolutely apply to the Court for exemptions from the injunction on behalf of provisional licensees who are ready to open as we work to provide access to safer, tested cannabis products. While today’s ruling is a disappointment, we are committed to working with the Cannabis Control Board to find a way forward that does not derail our efforts to bring the most equitable cannabis market in the nation to life.”

To view the court filings, including the decision, click here and use case number 907282-23.