Legal cannabis can finally come to Brooklyn and Buffalo. A preliminary injunction that has for months blocked adult use cannabis retail licenses from being issued in five regions of New York has been reduced to just the Finger Lakes.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued the decision on Tuesday. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul cheered the decision on Tuesday night, saying that she was “pleased.”
“For the first time, New Yorkers in nearly every region of the state will have access to safer, high-quality, adult-use cannabis products,” Hochul said.
New York’s cannabis regulators took their legal battle over licensing to the Second Circuit just days ago. This move came after a U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of New York upheld a preliminary injunction in February that has, since late 2022, prevented regulators from awarding Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses in regions including Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson, and Brooklyn. Regulators moved ahead with awarding CAURD licenses where they could, and the state’s first adult use sales took place in downtown Manhattan in December.
Regulators, as Cannabis Wire has reported, have aimed to overturn the preliminary injunction, or at least restrict it to the Finger Lakes region, which includes popular tourist destinations like Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake.
The lawsuit was initiated by Variscite NY One, Inc, which challenged the criteria for CAURD licenses reserved for “justice-involved” individuals, stating that they violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. Kenneth Gay, who owns Variscite, also owns a company called PeridotTree, which is making a similar argument against the City of Sacramento.
New York State Assembly Majority Leader (and Marihuana Taxation and Regulation Act, or MRTA, co-sponsor) Crystal Peoples-Stokes called out the Variscite lawsuit at a cannabis regulator meeting in November. She spoke first during a public comment period, saying that while she was “proud” that the first wave of CAURD licenses had been issued, it was “disappointing” that the region of Buffalo, which she represents, had been excluded.
“I know we’ll get through whatever these people want to do or try to do to us in the court system,” Peoples-Stokes said, adding that it’s “sad” that “equity is being tried in court.”
Sen. Jeremy Cooney, who represents Rochester, said in a statement after the decision on Tuesday that the Finger Lakes region will soon be able to “participate in this economic empowerment program” that the state’s cannabis program offers.
“The Rochester and Greater Finger Lakes Region was negatively impacted by the failed war on drugs. Its residents, especially members of the Black and Brown community, deserve the opportunity to participate in the social equity programs included within the MRTA legalization,” Cooney said.
New York’s cannabis regulators are facing another lawsuit from several medical cannabis licensees, called Registered Organizations, seeking adult-use licensing immediately, instead of waiting until after the CAURD licensees have been given a head start, as reported by Cannabis Wire earlier this month.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Gov. Kathy Hochul.