Welcome to Honeysuckle’s New York Retail Dispensary Round-Up! As the Empire State becomes a thriving hub for licensed cannabis dispensaries, we’re bringing you weekly updates with information on new store openings, events, and other developments that the public needs to know.
This week, CAURD licensees were devastated by the continuation of the restraining order against the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM); but it was good news for those in New Paltz and Brooklyn the inaugural Cannabis Growers Showcase weekend provided the first opportunities for New York’s adult-use cultivators to sell flower directly to consumers!
CAURD Injunction Continues After Hearing On Veterans’ Lawsuit
On Friday, August 11th, New Yorkers from all over the state poured into the town of Kingston to sit in at the Ulster County Supreme Court. There, they would listen to Judge Kevin Bryant’s next declaration on the injunction against the Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program. And unfortunately for the 463 licensees and 400-plus remaining applicants, Judge Bryant declined to lift the injunction for at least two more weeks - hoping a peaceful settlement might ensue before then.
Previously, in a decision on August 7th, the judge had decided to issue a restraining order against the OCM halting the progression of the licenses, in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of four disabled military veterans. The veterans argued that the regulators were keeping them from participating in New York’s legal cannabis market as the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) requires, charging that they were excluded from CAURD because the program prioritizes justice-involved entrepreneurs.
CAURD Licensees Stand United In Face Of Veterans' Lawsuit
Emotions ran high in Kingston. The day began with dozens of CAURD license holders gathering on the steps of the courthouse for a pre-hearing press conference. Osbert Orduna, founder and CEO of The Cannabis Place, and Coss Marte, founder and CEO of CONBUD, led the remarks with encouraging energy.
“We are New York,” Orduna said, indicating the diverse crowd behind him. “While the stand-up of the regulated cannabis industry has had its challenges, the CAURD program and its licensees come from all walks of life, all races, all genders, and yes, it does also include service-disabled veteran business owners.” As a service-disabled veteran himself, Orduna emphatically stated his opposition to any measures that would try to take down the CAURD program, noting that his business had created “35 cannabis careers” while the plaintiffs “do not advocate for our community.”
Various licensees spoke passionately about the dangers of halting CAURD and by extension New York’s entire legal cannabis industry rollout. They shared stories of deserving second chances after suffering the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs, of investing everything they have into the chance to get a license and open a business, only to have it snatched away by the court just as the wheels are being set in motion.
“Without any revenue, this would snuff the life out of our business,” Orduna predicted solemnly. “An injunction would hurt the entire industry.” He added that the restraining order benefits only corporate interests and would cause “irreparable harm” to the small business owners trying to participate in the space - the very people the MRTA is designed to help.
“I’ve hired a lot of people coming out of the prison system,” Marte described. His fitness brand CONBODY, started a few years ago, has maintained an astonishing 0 percent recidivism rate. Reiterating that veterans make up a dedicated percentage of the CAURD program and the legal industry as a whole, he continued, “We’re here… to move forward economically, to help nonprofit organizations that are doing the right work.”
What Happened In The Court Hearing? The Veterans' Lawsuit Against The OCM
That triumphant spirit, however, would dissipate in court. Much of the debate focused on the OCM’s exact reasons for creating the CAURD category. And while attorneys Matthew Schweber and Brian Burns seemed to gain solid ground for the veteran plaintiffs, arguing that their clients missed out on the benefits of being early to licensure and government assistance as promised in the MRTA, the state’s representative was less than effective.
Assistant Attorney General Shannan Krasnokutski, appearing on behalf of the OCM, came off as totally unprepared for the hearing. Sounding unsure of herself with each sentence, she stumbled when it came to essential questions such as the remaining number of CAURD licenses to be issued and the distance regulations for dispensary locations. She also neglected to mention the lynchpin of the program: That CAURD was created specifically to address the devastating impact of the War on Drugs on marginalized communities.
Krasnokutski’s performance in court was met with disbelief, derision, and outrage by the licensees observing the proceedings. Many CAURD holders in both the courtroom itself and the overflow room had to physically remove themselves because they couldn’t keep their emotions in check. Outbursts and grumblings spurred Judge Bryant to ask the assembly repeatedly not to interrupt, though he did so with a tremendous sense of respect and sympathy.
Jorge Vasquez, an attorney hired by Marte and other CAURD licensees, did address points that Krasnokutski missed; however, the plaintiff’s attorneys rebuffed these statements by emphasizing more literal interpretations of the law, a move with which Judge Bryant seemed to agree.
Ultimately, the judge ended the hearing with a call for both parties to come to an understanding. "I do believe that there is some space that you can all find together to bring this to a resolution that allows everyone to progress," he concluded. “I know you can find it in yourselves - you just need to communicate with each other and come up with ideas.” With that, as well as urging the parties to act quickly, he set the next hearing date for August 25th, keeping the injunction in place.
"A David And Goliath Moment": CAURD Licensees Ready To Fight For Their Rights After Hearing
Outside the courthouse, CAURD licensees were devastated, but continued to stand together. “Let’s show them how deep we are!” Orduna exhorted as the group reassembled in front of the courthouse. “Be ready in 10 days to be right back on these steps... All 463 of us need to be here. We will not stop until the wrongs have been righted.”
Despite CAURD holders’ insistence that inclusion is the key to succeeding in the movement, Orduna and the speakers at a post-hearing press conference couldn’t help distinguishing “corporate interests” from their own.
“It really is a David and Goliath moment,” Orduna asserted.
The next hearing will take place on Friday, August 25, 2023 at Ulster County Supreme Court in Kingston, NY.
First Cannabis Growers Showcase Weekend Opens In New Paltz and Brooklyn
Meanwhile, the past weekend brought some good news for New York’s licensed cannabis cultivators, as the inaugural Cannabis Growers Showcase (CGS) events debuted in New Paltz and at the Brooklyn Bazaar in Clinton Hill. These platforms offer a new avenue for cultivators to sell their cannabis flower and products direct-to-consumer. Applications for future CGS events are now available through the OCM’s website.
Though the CGS can’t be called a traditional farmers’ market - and cannabis cultivators won’t be allowed to mingle their wares with small farmers selling other goods at such a venue - those who were onsite in New Paltz on Thursday, August 10th and Friday, August 11th agreed that the showcase seemed a lot like one. Tents and tables were arranged so that each attendee could interface with the cultivators personally (at least once security verified that entrants were 21 and over). Recognizable brands such as High Falls Canna, Hudson River Farms, Ravens View Genetics, and Hepworth Farms anchored the new initiative, supported by partners including JUSTUS Foundation, Higher Counsel, Grow America Builders, and the Cannabis Association of New York (CANY).
Downstate, Brooklynites experienced a historic day on Saturday, August 12th as the Brooklyn Bazaar allowed adult-use cannabis to be sold legally in the borough for the very first time. The festival, organized by Ghetto Metal Entertainment’s Bazaar Royale and his wife Beverly Bond, an internationally recognized DJ and founder of the nonprofit Black Girls Rock, operated like a classic New York street fair elevated to the highest level of all elements. According to Royale, this was the event’s 16th year and was also timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of hip hop, which was officially celebrated on August 11th.
Musical talents filled the daylong festival’s lineup, including Royale and Bond themselves, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber (paying tribute to the legacy of the band’s founder Greg Tate), DJ Aktive, DJ HOT DAY, DJ Cocoa Chanelle, and newcomers mentored through Black Girls Rock such as Kenya Vaun, Laila, and Maya Nichole. Special panels on Women in Hip Hop and Women, Weed, and Wealth were also featured, allowing guests to see for themselves how hip hop and cannabis culture are intertwined.
But the highlight had to be the Cannabis Growers Showcase, organized by Cannabis NYC in partnership with The Dope Connection and NYS Cannabis Connect. Just like in New Paltz, security in Brooklyn checked IDs before permitting attendees entry. Once inside, a bevy of New York cultivators awaited: Harvest, Flower House NY, L&J Cannabis (powered by Clear Natural Cannabis), Mokotoke, Hysteria, Pure Vibe, and Ravens View Genetics yet again. State laws require all CGS events to have a dispensary partner onsite to handle sales, and in this case that role was taken up by Statis Cannabis, which recently opened in the Bronx, and Legacy Dispensers, a CAURD licensee that provides delivery services.
“I’ve been legally selling weed for three hours,” enthused Nicole, a volunteer at Harvest’s table. A native of Port Jefferson, Long Island, she said that she’d been consuming cannabis for years, but knew nothing about the industry until her friend Katie founded Harvest. Inspired by the radiant energy happening around her, Nicole added, “I’m making people’s dreams come true!”
Reese from Mokotoke was touched by the ever-present element of human connection in the event. “It’s great to come from a farm having grown everything yourself, and be able to sell it directly to the people who will consume it,” he shared.
“It shouldn’t be unusual to see something like this,” Valerie Drayton of Ravens View Genetics noted. As Cultivation Technicians, Drayton and her husband Bryan (who’s also a veteran and former law enforcement officer) are helping encourage people from all backgrounds to educate themselves about the wellness benefits of cannabis. They also represent a rise in the return of Black farmers and homesteaders to the agricultural industry across the United States.
“I’ve been involved with cannabis my whole life,” Bryan Drayton affirmed. But interestingly, he admitted that he hadn’t expected to be in the thick of the developing industry until, while still working in law enforcement, he realized that people who consumed cannabis almost never got in trouble. In fact, cannabis consumers were reinvesting in their communities regularly. It piqued Drayton’s interest and he never looked back.
Chris, a graphic designer with L&J Cannabis, said that as an artist he likes being challenged with the OCM’s regulations to develop a clean, upscale design that doesn’t rely on old archetypes of candy and cartoons. His biggest takeaway from the day was being able to drive sales in areas where consumers get to see everything the cultivators have to offer in person.
“It’s about educating the people,” Frankie Martinez of Flower House explained. “It’s showing them that we’re not growing like Cali, we’re not growing like Oregon, but we’re doing our own thing in New York and bringing you the very best.”
The New Paltz Cannabis Growers Showcase will be available to the public every Thursday and Friday from 4-8PM and every Saturday from 1-8PM through December 31, 2023.
If you have CAURD-related news or other dispensary updates you'd like to share, DM us at @honeysucklemagazine on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Featured image: 40 New York Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license holders gather on the famous Bronx steps, used in films such as 2019's JOKER (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture