The Highs and Lows of New York’s Cannabis Industry Rollout

Recreational cannabis is now legal in New York. Theoretically, you can go into a dispensary and buy some cannabis and smoke/eat/drink/ingest it, or even open up your own cannabis business. There’s just one problem: there’s an indefinite license freeze going on right now, so nobody knows when new licenses will be rolled out.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the status of legal cannabis in New York, explaining the current license freeze and what to expect in terms of future rollout plans.

The Cannabis Regulatory and Taxation Act (CRTA), which was signed into law in March 2021 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, officially legalized adult-use recreational cannabis in the state of New York. This means adults over the age of 21 can smoke cannabis just like they can smoke cigarettes. 

Under the CRTA, there are several different licenses that businesses can apply for to operate in the legal cannabis market. These licenses include:

  • Cultivator license: This license allows businesses to cultivate, harvest, dry, cure, grade, and trim cannabis for sale to other licensed cannabis businesses.
  • Processor license: This license allows businesses to manufacture, prepare, package, and label cannabis products for sale to other licensed cannabis businesses.
  • Distributor license: This license allows businesses to transport cannabis products between other licensed cannabis businesses.
  • Retail license: This license allows businesses to sell cannabis products directly to consumers.
  • Microbusiness license: This license allows small-scale businesses to cultivate, process, and sell cannabis products to consumers.

It’s important to note that the application process for these licenses is currently on pause in New York as the state develops regulations and licensing procedures for cannabis businesses.

However, once the application process resumes, businesses interested in operating in the legal cannabis market in New York can apply for the appropriate license based on their business activities.

Huge Economic Opportunity

The New York City Comptroller recently estimated that the expanding legalization of cannabis has the potential to create a $3.1 billion market, with NYC alone seeing an additional $336 million in annual tax revenue. Beyond the revenue, legal cannabis would create thousands of jobs, from cultivators and processors to retailers and ancillary service providers. 

Additionally, legalization could provide a boost to related industries such as real estate and tourism. With New York’s large population and bustling economy, the potential for growth in the cannabis industry is significant, making it a promising opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike.

Licenses are on hold

In New York, whether you’re upstate,  in Manhattan or anywhere else, commercial cannabis licenses are on hold. You can still apply for a medical card, but businesses are out of luck. Here’s the deal:

First wave (CUARD)

The first license wave, which included only conditional adult-use retail dispensary (CAURD) licenses, ended September 2022. To qualify for a CAURD license, you or one of your family members must have BOTH:

  1. A prior cannabis related offense
  2. Prior company ownership (at least 10%) and operating experience

This system was designed with the intention of providing a type of restorative justice to those who were penalized for cannabis-related offenses, now that the drug has been decriminalized.

When will the next wave come?

We don’t know yet. We reached out to the New York State Office of Cannabis Management for an estimated date or time frame that we can expect the applications to open back up, but they were unable to provide one. However, they were able to report that “other, non-conditional adult-use licenses will be available in the future.” 

Monitor for updates on when these licenses become available. There is also a mailing list there where you can sign up for email updates regarding license availability.

What to do in the Meantime

While the application process for commercial cannabis licenses is on hold, there are several steps you can take to prime yourself and your business for the best possible entry strategy. Here’s what you should do to get ahead:

Develop a business plan

Ambitious entrepreneurs will use this downtime between license waves to develop a comprehensive business plan, including a detailed analysis of the market, potential competitors, and strategies for securing funding and finding a suitable location for their business.

This way, once licensing resumes, you’ll be ready and have all the necessary info to apply.


Networking and building relationships with key players in the industry, such as investors, potential suppliers, and local government officials is instrumental in positioning your business for success once licensing resumes. 

Joining industry associations like the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association and attending events like the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition can provide valuable opportunities to meet and connect with other industry professionals.

Attend local business events, such as chamber of commerce meetings or small business networking events. You can even do it from home by participating in online forums and social media groups, where there are plenty of opportunities to connect with others in the industry and stay up to date on the latest news and trends.

Stay compliant with Biotrack

 It is important for cannabis businesses to stay compliant with regulatory requirements, even during the licensing pause. BioTrack is a cannabis seed-to-sale tracking and inventory management software that is currently being used in New York to track and monitor cannabis businesses’ compliance with state regulations.

All cannabis businesses in New York must enroll in and use Biotrack to track all inventory. The more familiar you are with these regulations and the more prepared you are to meet the necessary requirements once licensing resumes, the quicker you’ll be able to get your doors open for business.


As of right now, New York has a pause on all commercial licensing, but that means you have more time to explore other areas of the cannabis industry, such as cultivation, processing, or testing.

These types of businesses require different types of licenses, like a cultivation license, and there’s a chance that the state will dole them out first. If you can prepare your business infrastructure ahead of time, you can take your business to new heights. 

Explore opportunities out of state, too. While the fact that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level makes interstate transportation difficult, it’s perfectly legal to have two separate operations in two different states.

While you’re waiting for New York to release a new wave of cannabis licenses, set up shop in another state. Just keep in mind that different states have different regulations and requirements, particularly those involving track-and-trace systems.

Final Thoughts

New York, with the state’s incredible residential and tourist population, is bound to be a huge market for cannabis. In order to take advantage of it, you’ll need to do all you can to be prepared and keep your eyes peeled for the next wave of licenses.

  • Andrew Sego is a freelance blogger, screenwriter, and tutor who loves learning about the miraculous world we inhabit and teaching it to others.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *