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Marijuana Arrestees Bid for New York’s First Legal Dispensary Licenses

As New York State prepares to take on legal marijuana sales by handing out dispensary licenses, it’s tasked one organization – the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) – with making the process equitable.

The OCM’s plan: a program called CUARD, which will give out the state’s first 150 licenses to “justice involved” individuals who have received marjiuna-related criminal charges.

“The program itself is the first in the nation of its kind,” said Damian Fagan, the OCM’s chief equity officer. “Cannabis licensing applications can be very, very complex, but for CUARD we’re trying to make it straightforward.”

Accepted CUARD applicants will receive between $500,000 and $1.5 million each to get their dispensary started, pulling from a $200 million fund. Around 25 of the licenses will be given to non-profit organizations that employ justice-involved members, though only individuals who apply are eligible for the cash bonus.

Licenses will be doled out based on geography, with applicants being categorized by where they want to open a dispensary and not their home residence. Brooklyn, for example, has 19 open CUARD spots to apply for, while Mohawk Valley has two. Applicants are able to list up to five preferred locations.

The criteria to be accepted goes beyond having a marijuana charge on your criminal record. Applicants must also prove they’ve owned at least 10% of a business for two years, according to the program’s website. Each application also costs $2,000, a non-refundable fee that needs to be paid in full before the application is formally reviewed.

Applications for CUARD opened on Aug. 25 and closed Sept. 25. 

The organization has yet to release its full application details, but put out a tweet Wednesday saying it received 903 applications in total.

The Bronx Cannabis Hub, a cannabis justice organization created by a group of Bronx public defenders, says it helped over 500 people fill out applications in the Bronx alone, where just 11 of the 150 licenses will be awarded, though just around 70 of the 500 people met the complete qualifications to submit their application.

The 150 CUARD licenses are just the first step in the OCM’s larger vision for the budding New York dispensary industry. The move by New York state lawmakers to legalize cannabis is expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue once legal dispensaries are up and running.

“New York consumes a lot of cannabis, so that means we need to grow a lot of cannabis and we need to have enough retail stores to meet that demand,” said Fagon. “So we’re looking at thousands of licenses for sure over the next three to five years.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

A poster board that reads

Civic Engagement Commission kicks-off community budgeting initiative in Mott Haven

The Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) opened submissions for its “People’s Money” initiative Wednesday, allowing New York residents to propose community-focused ideas that could be implemented by the city and funded by a $5-million portion of the mayoral budget.

Drashti Brahmnhatt, the director of the CEC’s participatory budgeting program, addresses the crowd at Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven. Eli Tan, Bronx Ink

Members of the CEC plan to gather ideas until Nov. 9, which will then be voted on by New Yorkers through April to ultimately be implemented in June. Residents of all five boroughs above the age of 10 will be eligible to vote and submit ideas.

“Is this $5 million going to change the world? Probably not,” said Wendy Trull, a member of the CEC. “But it’s a start towards getting New Yorkers involved and engaged in their communities and exposed to what volunteerism can do. If someone proposes an idea and sees that idea become real, that’s inspiring.”

Proposals are meant to be local and grassroots in nature. Sarah Sayeed, another member of the CEC, said its intention is to fund projects that are “closer to food and clothing drives than building a new public park.” The initiative’s website specifies that no proposal requiring construction or renovation is eligible for funding.

The CEC kicked-off the initiative with a morning of festivities at Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven’s business district, which included speeches from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and other elected officials.

One hour into the event, ten proposals had already been submitted in-person, ranging from broader concepts like “community building” to tackling specific causes like gun violence against Muslim women.

A poster board with the text "tell us what the most important issue is in your neighborhood" is covered in blue and pink sticky notes.
A poster board for the CEC’s new budgeting initiative welcomes community input. Eli Tan, The Bronx Ink

Some attendees were less optimistic about the initiative than its organizers, including Johnny Chavarria, the event’s DJ.

“It feels a bit performative if I’m being honest, like the city is trying to check off a box of their agenda,” Chavarria said. “I’m an activist myself but I believe less in the government funded programs.”

The People’s Money concept has been in the works since November 2018, when New Yorkers voted through a referendum proposed by the Charter Revision Commission mandating a new participatory budgeting process.

The specific plan to distribute the money geographically gets complicated – while proposals can be for any neighborhood around New York City, funding will be allocated based on poverty density, with preference given to TRIE neighborhoods, the 33 neighborhoods the city deemed most negatively impacted by the pandemic, nine of which are in the Bronx. 

The $5 million represents just a small fraction of the mayor’s $101 billion annual budget. Since participatory budgeting was added to the city council’s agenda in 2011, $200 million has been spent on projects voted on by residents, according to the city’s website.

For all his skepticism, Chavarria still plans to submit his own proposal to fund an event that focuses on bringing more music to the community, a cause he’s passionate about.

“For the music, it’s worth a shot,” Chavarria said.

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