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Can I Launch a Cannabis Business in NY with a Criminal Record?

We’ve written before about the rollout of New York marijuana legalization, and how the state is working to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by populations who have been unduly affected by the War on Drugs. Herein lies a paradox. Because some would-be entrepreneurs have had personal, negative interactions with the justice system, many of them wonder: Can you work at a dispensary with a criminal record?

In today’s post, we’ll explore this question, as well as provide background on New York marijuana legalization as a whole. If you’re looking to enter the New York cannabis market, this is important information you’ll want to have at the ready.

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How to Open a Dispensary: Equity in New York Cannabis

The Empire State’s Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) is notable for putting social equity front and center. With a mandate to promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity when issuing cannabis licenses, advocates hope the program will have a positive, lasting, and galvanizing effect for historically marginalized license applicants.

To that end, the state stipulates that preference will be given to social and economic equity applicants, with a goal of 50% of licenses going to such applicants. These “Social and Economic Equity” applicants will be entitled to such benefits as fee waivers or reductions, access to low-interest or interest-free loans, and no-cost counseling services such as small business coaching and financial planning.

What’s more, these special dispensations are designed to prevent they’re being used as a “back door” for non-qualifying applications. The law prohibits the sale or transfer of a social equity license for three years after initial licensure unless the license is sold or transferred to another qualified social equity licensee (and the transfer is approved by the CCB).

We should note that, finally, the CCB has demonstrated an interest in maintaining geographic diversity among license holders.

Can a Felon Own a Dispensary? Crucial Questions

What bearing does a prior felony conviction have on participation in or ownership of a cannabis business in New York? While many New Yorkers will enjoy automatic expungement of some types of cannabis-related convictions, the implications on licensing are somewhat different. At present, a cannabis-related conviction automatically disbars the person from working at a medical dispensary.

However, the wording of the MRTA allows for some discretion on the part of the Cannabis Control Board. While mandating that cannabis businesses can’t employ those convicted in the last three years of a felony related to the running of a business, the language notes that “a felony conviction for the sale or possession of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances is not substantially related” in this regard. In other words, the Board is signaling that—within limits—it’s open to changing the paradigm about prior convictions under a legal rubric acknowledged as discriminatory.

When it comes to ownership of a cannabis business, the Board requires full disclosure of any prior cannabis-related convictions. Again, this doesn’t equal automatic, permanent disqualification. Rather, the implication is that the Board will place any prior convictions in context.

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New York Marijuana Legalization: In Conclusion  

While the wording of the state’s licensing requirements may present something of a gray area, there’s no reason to leave yourself in the dark.

If you’re committed to securing a NY cannabis license, we’re here to help. Since 2009, Bridge West has helped more than 400 license holders all across the United States navigate the daunting array of rules, regulations, and pitfalls around applying for and securing a cannabis license. Reach out; we’d love to talk.