The New York-based Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis (CARSC) recently filed a lawsuit against the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) on March 16. CARSC is an “unincorporated trade association” that includes a handful of organizations, including Acreage Holdings, PharmaCann, Green Thumb Industries, and Curaleaf, all of which sought to apply for a dispensary license in New York.
The lawsuit is requesting a judge to declare Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) as unconstitutional, and state that the OCM and Cannabis Control Board (CCB) have overstepped their authority.
The lawsuit was filed with the Albany County Supreme Court by Feuerstein Kulick, claiming that the 2021 Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act required both the OCM and CCB “the initial adult-use retail dispensary license application period … for all applicants at the same time.” Both agencies made the CAURD, which created a new license class, and allowed specific groups to apply for it, rather than “all applicants.”
“Rather than perform the tasks required by the MRTA—which would promote a safe and regulated cannabis industry for medical patients and adult-use consumers alike—CCB and OCM have improperly assumed the role of the Legislature to impose their own policies over those of New York’s elected officials and, by extension, their constituents,” the lawsuit states, according to Syracuse.com.
The lawsuit alleges that the CCB and OCM didn’t complete the requirements of the MRTA, and instead abused its power to create the CAURD. CAURD originated from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative that was announced in March 2022, which “position individuals with prior cannabis-related criminal offenses” to earn one of 150 licenses, and an additional 25 to nonprofit organizations. It requires that an applicant must have been convicted of a cannabis crime in the state of New York, and also must have a “significant presence.”
The lawsuit alleges that a 20-month delay in proposed cannabis regulations is a violation of state law, among other evidence, including having cultivators grow thousands of pounds of cannabis without having retail businesses set up to sell it all.
In July 2022, OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander spoke with NY Cannabis Insider about the threat of a lawsuit such as this one. “I don’t have a concern about the challenge towards the retail opportunity, because the board has the power to create additional licenses,” Alexander said. “We think about legal challenges that may come to the program, but that’s why we stay as close to the law and the powers that law has given us as possible.”
One month before the CAURD application window ended in October 2022, a different lawsuit was filed that prevented the OCM from issuing licenses in five out of 14 areas: Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson, and Brooklyn. The lawsuit alleges that CAURD violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, which “refers to the prohibition, implicit in the Commerce Clause, against states passing legislation that discriminates against or excessively burdens interstate commerce.”
Another lawsuit filed by Variscite NY One, a Michigan-based company, was denied a license because it is 51% owned by an individual who has no “significant presence” in New York, and has a cannabis conviction in Michigan, not New York.
Syracuse.com states that 66 CAURD licenses have been issued so far, with the CCB announcing in March that it plans to increase the pool of licenses to 300.
Sen. Jeremy Cooney, who co-sponsored the MRTA, addressed the concerns of the lawsuit in a statement to NY Cannabis Insider. “When we passed the MRTA, there was an understanding that the rollout of adult-use recreational cannabis and expansion of New York’s medical cannabis program would be complex, and encounter obstacles,” Cooney said. “While a potential lawsuit is undoubtedly a new challenge, we must not allow it to become a roadblock to progress. We must continue our efforts to deliver for operators, patients, and consumers as the legal process unfolds. We are committed to increasing patient access for the medical program and creating equity in the recreational market.”