In New York City, liquor license applicants are required to notify the local community board, whose members then issue a yes or no recommendation before the State Liquor Authority makes a decision.
With legal cannabis dispensaries, however, the order of events has been reversed: An applicant only has to notify the local community board after a location has been approved.
That’s because the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has been first issuing Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses, or CAURDs, to people impacted by cannabis-related convictions. Those provisional licenses then require recipients to go back to the OCM to get an OK on their desired location. Only then is the local community board even informed about what’s coming.
The Cannabis Control Board, OCM’s regulating body, approved 212 new CAURD licenses at its meeting this Wednesday, nearly doubling the pool of licensees statewide.
Jason Salmon, the deputy director of campaigns and outreach for the OCM, said that his agency urges each licensee to go before a community board as soon as the office approves their location.
“Community boards are advisory. They can’t stop the dispensary from coming into the community and opening up shop,” Salmon said. “But we want to, obviously, educate our licensees about the importance of community boards, and the significant role they play in the community.”
The office has worked with the licensees to help convince community board members that licensed dispensaries would be an asset, he said, bringing jobs and generating income while also helping to tamp down the 1,500 or more illicit smoke shops now spread across the city.
“I will say that we’ve all modeled our policy off SLA on this,” Salmon said, referring to the Liquor Authority. “It’s not exactly the same. And obviously, we had to make some adjustments.”
‘Respect the Block’
When it comes to getting a license or permit from the State Liquor Authority, even if it’s a temporary permit, applicants are required by law to notify the community board at least 30 days in advance of filing an application.
That allows the community board to have a say in the proposed establishment, and the State Liquor Authority to take that recommendation into consideration.
The Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act, the law governing legal cannabis in the state, has the same 30-day notification requirement for those seeking licenses.
But CAURD licenses, which are not actually in the state’s new cannabis law, have created a gray zone. The conditional period for CAURD holders ends after four years, at which point they must apply for full licensure.
Mar Fitzgerald, chair of Manhattan Community Board 2’s Cannabis Licensing Committee, said that people hoping to open dispensaries should similarly have to familiarize themselves with the neighborhoods they wish to open in.
“You need to know where you’re operating, and you need to, as I say, respect the block,” Fitzgerald said.
Because her community board was the first to vote on a dispensary — Housing Works Cannabis Co. at Astor Place, Manhattan — others have turned to her for help.
Different boards have taken different approaches, she said, with some creating new cannabis committees while others have the same committee dealing with both liquor and weed.
Fitzgerald said that the SLA has been responsive to community board recommendations and hopes that as more dispensaries look to open, boards can play a similar role with those businesses.
“I think where it makes a difference is that question … How much does community board recommendation under CAURD weigh?”
At least one community board has decided that its recommendations are weightless. In May, Community Board 3 in Manhattan voted unanimously to stop issuing recommendations to the OCM on dispensaries, stating that “they did not have the power to deny a license that has been provisionally approved by OCM and furthermore the inspection and opening date of the business had already been coordinated by OCM and the licensee.”
Hot Takes and ‘Hipster Glasses’
Many community boards are trying to engage with licensed store applicants.
In December, the state Dormitory Authority, which has been securing locations that the state will help finance for some of the CAURD licensees, announced that it had finally secured its first site — just across 125th Street from the Apollo Theater.
That sparked a hostile response from members of Community Board 10 in Harlem, and in April the 125th Street District Management Association filed a lawsuit against the Dormitory Authority seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against a pot store opening there.
While a judge dismissed their lawsuit earlier this month as premature, the business association says that it may file another suit to try and stop Gotham Buds, the licensee the authority and OCM eventually paired with the address, from opening a store there.
Other CAURD licensees have also faced a hostile reception, as when Osbert Orduña appeared before Queens Community Board 5 after OCM had already signed off on his site in Middle Village. His presentation to the board drew the ire of several members of the community, including a staff member for City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) who called him a drug dealer in a “fancy suit and hipster glasses.”
(Holden’s office says that the staff member attended the meeting as a private citizen.)
The board ended up tabling its vote on the recommendation for a later meeting, Orduña said, adding that many people at the meeting told him they supported his store.
That’s one reason why he wasn’t concerned about whether the community board’s input might jeopardize his chances of obtaining a full license when his provisional CAURD one expires.
“I feel that we’re doing everything correctly to the letter of the law,” he said. “And we’re working very diligently to be a positive community member and contributor to the overall economic impact in the community.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said that liquor license and cannabis dispensary applicants were required to appear before their local community board. In fact, they are only required to notify the community board.