Justice-linked cannabis license applicants form coalition to hold state accountable and provide resources


As more cannabis dispensaries prepare to open in New York City, a group of applicants and licensees have formed a coalition to ensure that the first cannabis retail outlets go to those who have previously been prosecuted due to the war on drugs.

Jason Tantalo and his wife Britney, who run Flower City Hydroponics in Rochester, applied for a Conditional Use Adult Use Recreational Dispensary (CAURD) license but soon felt their application fell by the wayside as the state was busy setting guidelines and rules for the nascent industry.

The pair teamed up with fellow license applicants Koss Marte, who owns Conbody and Conbud in Manhattan, and Jeremy Rivera, a Queens-based building consultant and co-owner of Kush Culture Industries, to create a resource center for those looking for more information about the licensing process.

“I think some people think that our reaction is like an uprising or that we are persecuting the state, but we say we need help,” said Britney, whose husband Jason was arrested in 2004 for growing cannabis and now hopes to turn his once illegal operation into a legitimate business. “We need help across the state, and we need help from the Office of Cannabis Management.”

Koss Marte, founding member of the CAURD coalition. Marte founded Conbody, an organization that finds work for inmates released from prison. CAURD Coalition.

What started as a four-person group chat quickly grew to a coalition of over 70 members, including 55 applicants, 15 licensees, and several attorneys. Tantalo says the organization is not about manipulating licenses, but about supporting members who don’t get them and creating a hub for jobs, training and mentoring.

“As applicants, we were asking questions for information, so we knew there must be other license applicants in the same situation,” Tantalo said, highlighting that many residents who applied for licenses in Western New York did not there was money or time. must attend state-sponsored information sessions, many of which were held in the state or in Albany. “Other applicants began to pester us, so we automatically understood that it was necessary to create some kind of group for information and protection of interests.”

The group, dubbed the CAURD coalition, held its first meeting on Friday at a private location in the Bronx, drawing license applicants as far away as the Finger Lakes.

The event, in true stoner fashion, was packed with music, food and lots of cannabis, but the goal was specific: to form a coalition to ensure applicants get a fair chance of opening retail dispensaries and sharing information about the roll. – from legal weed in New York.

Jason Tantalo poses for a photograph. Tantalo was arrested for growing cannabis in 2004 and is hoping to turn his once illegal activity into a legal business. Photo by Wes Parnell.

“This is how we should build the industry. We have seen every other social capital industry fail because it was all competitive or treacherous,” Marthe said, referring to how in many states social justice was an afterthought before legalization, and those who received licenses for social equality, often failed due to lack of resources and training. “New York really wants to do it right and we can really do it together. But we have to assume that there is enough pie for everyone.”

While many in the group seek information about licensing, the coalition also serves as a source of jobs and training. Marte says he started working with Housing Works Cannabis Co., New York City’s first legal pharmacy, to find work for those previously incarcerated through his non-profit organization Conbody, which has previously incarcerated employees and boasts zero the level of recidivism. .

“If I could get so many people out of the prison system who were locked up for weed to work in this industry, that would be amazing,” Marte said. “I feel like this system has been intimidating us for so many years. And now we can take advantage of a system that listens to us.”

Since organizing, the group says they have had positive conversations with the Office of Cannabis Management and that OCM has been supportive of their efforts to share resources and educational materials.

Cannabis Management declined to comment.

Jeremy Rivera, a construction consultant in Queens, applies for a CAURD license and is a founding member of the CAURD Coalition. Jeremy Rivera

At the event in the Bronx, coalition members were briefed on the future of the organization, which includes job training, financial literacy workshops, and networking with other industry players. The event was sponsored by Dutchie, the state’s official technical partner, which provides server services to CAURD dispensaries, as well as SEIBOLD Security and House of Puff.

Rivera, which is licensed to conduct insurance audits on construction sites, plans to offer Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance training for dispensaries.

Another challenge for the coalition is to convince illegal dealers to give up woodworking and start applying for jobs in the legal industry.

“There will always be genuine distrust when it comes to government agencies, three-letter agencies and people,” said Rivera, who said many illegal operators, also known as legacy operators, are wary of becoming legal. “Cannabis was an industry of people with little oversight. Above all, as a coalition, we are building unity and people who were previously involved in a legacy industry.”

Licensing confusion

The introduction of legal cannabis in New York City has been a Herculean effort that has been slowed down by hiccups and obstacles as the state tries to put social justice at the forefront of its legalization efforts.

Gov. Kathy Hochul promised to open 20 stores by the end of 2022, but only one pharmacy was open by the end of the year.

In July 2022, the Cannabis Control Board approved the CAURD licensing rules, which promised that the first pharmacies would be made available to applicants whose immediate family members were affected by the war on drugs and who also met the requirements of running a legal business that was profitable for at least two years in a row.

But because cannabis is federally banned, getting funds and real estate to open a marijuana shop is difficult. Most banks will not lend to small businesses for cannabis transactions.

To address these issues, the State has directed the New York State Dormitory Authority (DASNY) to provide $150 million in private funds to serve as a bank for CAURD license holders. DASNY was also responsible for finding and leasing applicants on a turnkey basis.

DASNY has chosen Social Equity Impact Ventures, led by NBA basketball player Chris Webber, businesswoman Lavetta Wheelis and former city comptroller William Thompson, to raise the money. So far, neither the state nor DASNY has disclosed how much money has been raised, and DASNY has blocked journalists seeking information about the fund.

Britney Tantalo co-owns Flower City Hydroponics and hopes to get a retail license with her husband Jason. Jason and Britney are co-founders of CAURD Coalition. CAURD Coalition.

Rivera said the main reason for creating the coalition was to create a unified voice to communicate with DASNY about whether funds and locations would be made available to license holders.

“I think a lot of the main concerns that started this coalition were around the lack of transparency and the $150 million for the fund,” Rivera said. “That was really one of the first big questions that were raised. We do all this work, but will there be a real fund for us? When the time comes, will the real building be ready?”

After organizing collectively, the group said they received a positive response from DASNY and were confident that the state would be able to meet their needs.

DASNY did not respond to a request for comment.

Candidates Don’t Lose Hope

Venera Rodriguez, 48, who is applying for a CAURD license, joined the coalition after meeting Britney at a cannabis awareness meeting last year. Rodriguez’s ex-partner and father of her children was killed in 2003 in Rockland County in a high-profile drug-related murder.

Rodriguez, who ran a successful Spring Valley doula company, says her son was later arrested for possession of cannabis in 2018. Although she grew up with parents who used cannabis and that was the norm at home, Rodriguez told amNewYork Metro that the drug’s illegal nature has led to a life of crime and run-ins with the law for many of her family members.

She hopes to get a license to correct the mistakes made by her family during the years of prohibition.

“When my ex-partner, the father of my children, was killed, I felt I had a lot to heal for myself and my family. That’s why I got into childbearing and doula services, and that’s why I feel such a need to bring healing back to my community,” said Rodriguez, who also sits on the board of a Dutchess County cannabis farm. therapy-based retreats. “If I get my license, it will literally come full circle. From hurting my community with the war on drugs to starting a legal and entertainment business.”

CAURD complainant and CAURD coalition member Venera Rodriguez, 48, and her son Ahkim Santana, who was arrested for possession of cannabis in 2018. Rodriguez hopes to get a license to right the wrongs her family members made during the war on drugs. Venus Rodriguez

The Cannabis Control Board announced the first 28 licenses in November, but so far only one store has opened in New York City with justice involved. Smacked LLC had a soft opening on Monday but will close again in late February as DASNY continues renovations to the store.

Housing Works Cannabis Co., which opened in December, was not a CAURD dispensary. In November, eight non-profit organizations received dispensary licenses but were responsible for providing their own capital and storefronts.

The next batch of CAURD licenses will be announced on Wednesday. OCM did not specify how many licenses would be issued, and DASNY did not say how many storefronts they received.

While the issuance of licenses has been slower than expected, the CAURD Coalition says it has had more contact with government agencies since its inception and is confident New York City will be true to its mission of supporting dispensaries owned by those who hardest hit by the war on drugs.

“The motto from the beginning has always been collaboration, not competition,” said Tantalo. “The goal for New York has always been to turn the legacy market into legalization, and if OCM allows us to help, we will have the opportunity to reach the thousands of New Yorkers who have been affected by criminalization.”

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