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NYS lawmaker who helped lead marijuana legalization assesses the progress so far

There may be some frustration with a slower pace in setting up the whole cannabis farm to the sales system. It did move forward in August and September.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Now that New York state's program to build a legal recreational marijuana business is taking shape, 2 On Your Side sat down with one of the Albany architects of the system when it comes to making the rules.

State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo says, so far, so good. But as she also explained there is still plenty of work to be done. 

This week the State Office of Cannabis Management will run another round of tours, like one in July in Eden, of farms actually growing marijuana. This time they will be in the Rochester area and elsewhere around the state as they check crop inventory with an emphasis on in-state growers.   

Peoples-Stokes said, "You need to make sure you're gonna have the product. As you know in a lot of other places across the country - in Canada as well - they opened up and they didn't have the product. So I think what they find out in these additional tours that they're doing with the growth piece of it will determine when these stores might actually be open." 

There may be some frustration with a slower pace in setting up the whole cannabis farm to the sales system. It did move forward in August and September with 903 applications for 150 initial temporary dispensary licenses tied to requirements of a proven business record and a prior marijuana conviction to right wrongs they felt came from the previous war on drugs targeting minorities.

People-Stokes points out, "People want things to be instant you know. Look I don't think you want to do this one fast. I think we want to do it right." The Assemblymember says she actually toured other areas of the country and even Canada which had already legalized cannabis products for sale.  

The legislation Peoples Stokes spearheaded as Majority Leader seeks to level the playing field. The plan from her and other lawmakers calls for carving out space for smaller pot businesses to compete with potential state-funded large-scale operations.

2 On Your Side brought up a reality of the business world.

"What would you say to people who are concerned that the big players are eventually just gonna dominate here? 

"Well, I would liken that to people who need to understand the American economy. It's capitalistic so it's built on who has the most will end up figuring out to keep the most and/or get more. They're coming fast and heavy because New York is the number one market in the world for marijuana. And so yeah they're gonna come with big dollars, they'll come real strong. But they can't come until after we get the first 150 set up," Peoples-Stokes said. 

That '150' is the first round of dispensary licenses to be granted by the state office of cannabis management from a pool of 903 applicants who had to show a successful business track record and a prior marijuana conviction. And they can get some state financial help. 

Eventually, they could partner with a big company which might run multi-state operations and have out-of-state financial backers. But the original licensee must retain 51% equity control to keep it.        

Unlike other legalized marijuana states, New York has split the licenses for growing, processing, and retail. Peoples-Stokes says, "You have to structure things in a way that gets people a head start. Because if you don't do that not only will they not have a head start, they won't even get in. Because you're exactly right - the big guys eventually will come take over."

"Again you can't keep the license and be less than 51 percent. So you still have to be maintained there in some stream."     

Overall the Assemblymember feels the process is working out the way she intended even at a slower pace for setting it all up. That includes separate licenses for pot growing, processing, and retail sales unlike a conglomerate.

Last week a spokesman for state cannabis management said a few marijuana dispensaries could open in New York State by the end of the year. But Peoples-Stokes says she's fine with April or May of next year as long as they follow the proper guidelines that she and other lawmakers intended.


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