ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Amid a lawsuit that put a pause on cannabis dispensary licenses in some regions of New York, the Cannabis Control Board approved the first batch of dispensary licenses today. Some are calling this a historic moment of equity and justice in New York.

It was a year ago the Board had their first meeting, and now after receiving over 900 applications, 36 are approved. The applicants had to meet two criteria: That they or a close family member had a marijuana related offense before March of 2021 and that they have some experience owning and operating a business in New York. 

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment. I think the thing that struck me the most about this meeting was just the energy. The optimism from some of the Conditional Adult Use Retail dispensary winners and just how excited everybody was to launch the program,” said Axel Bernabe, Chief of Staff at The Office of Cannabis Management.

The applications are approved on a rolling basis with an additional 114 to be announced. The approval came at an interesting time; a federal judge recently blocked five regions in New York from issuing cannabis licenses after a Michigan company by the name of Variscite claimed, the states application process was discriminatory against those who live outside New York. Axel Bernabe, Chief of Staff at the Office of Cannabis Management explained how they were able to proceed, “In the judge’s order the judge allowed us to move forward with nine of the 14 regions, so that’s what we did. All the CAURD winners this time were folks that were not in the enjoined areas.”

Those areas being the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson, and Brooklyn. Bernabe said the Cannabis model being used is unique in that it will allow for diversity in products at the dispensaries, similar to a wine store. “And so they’re gonna be choosing what brands to carry. So small brands, women-owned brands, minority-owned brands you know, international brands, they’ll all be here in New York, and the diversity we have in New York is gonna reflect that,” he said.

The Board also discussed regulations moving forward, “Revisions to the draft rules include allowing licensees to include more than one logo or brand element on a package which allows them to co-brand with other licensees, removing the requirement for a plain white background with black text on the front of the package.” The universal symbol for cannabis was also updated. Additionally, the market does not allow for a stakeholder to be both a supplier, such as a cultivator and a retailer, such as a dispensary. The Board hopes to have another meeting before the end of the year.