Lawsuit Over Planned Harlem Cannabis Dispensary Dismissed By New York Judge

July 12, 2023

A lawsuit was filed by the 125th Street Business District Management Association Inc., a Harlem business group.

A planned cannabis dispensary was dismissed on Monday by a New York state court judge.

The judge, Shahabuddeen A. Ally, determined that the business group had not yet suffered any harm since the dispensary could not operate until it obtained its finalized license.

In his decision, Judge Ally highlighted that the dispensary applicant had only received a provisional license in January for the intended location near the Apollo Theater at 248 W. 125th St. The business group had become aware of the proposed dispensary in December, through the New York government, leading them to file the lawsuit in April.

The judge pointed out that Harlem‘s community board had not yet provided its advisory opinion on the dispensary proposal, as the applicant had informed the board about it after the lawsuit was initiated. The final decision regarding the license rests with the New York State Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, as stated by Judge Ally.

Judge Ally’s ruling stated, “There is also no dispute that unless and until a full (conditional adult-use retail dispensary) license is issued, the applicant cannot operate a dispensary and may yet still be denied full licensure.” He further explained that since the dispensary was not yet operational, the business group could not demonstrate any tangible harm to its members, which would grant them standing to bring the case at that time.

Additionally, the judge emphasized that the Harlem community should have the opportunity to express their opinions on the proposed dispensary to their community board. Preventing the establishment of the dispensary would hinder the community board from sharing its views, according to Judge Ally.

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“…the proposed dispensary would worsen existing public health issues and contribute to increased violent and property crimes, pedestrian congestion, and cannabis marketing. “

The business group had voiced concerns over the past eight months, claiming that the proposed dispensary would worsen existing public health issues and contribute to increased violent and property crimes, pedestrian congestion, and cannabis marketing. These concerns were raised by Barbara Askins, the head of the group, in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul in December, shedding light on the community’s preexisting challenges.

In response to the lawsuit in April, a representative for DASNY (Dormitory Authority of the State of New York) clarified that the agency solely assesses the proposed location and not the other tenants of the property owner. However, industry experts have raised concerns about this situation, labeling it a significant issue and a potential conflict of interest.

While crime rates in the Central Harlem precinct, including the site of the proposed dispensary, have slightly increased in 2022 according to NYPD statistics, advocates argue that legalizing marijuana can have positive effects such as job creation and generating tax revenue. A 2019 study from CUNY’s John Jay College also indicated that areas near cannabis dispensaries in Denver experienced “significantly higher” levels of property crime.

The lawsuit highlights the growing dissatisfaction among communities that feel excluded from the planning stages of the cannabis program. Several local officials expressed surprise at the location’s plans, but the 125th Street group had already expressed concerns while regulators were preparing for the rollout.

However, the judge dismissed the notion that the process was predetermined or “rigged,” stating that the business group could file a lawsuit if the license is granted and their concerns remain unaddressed.

The proposed opening of a cannabis dispensary in Harlem represents the latest challenge in New York’s efforts to establish a licensed, legal marijuana market, which has been hindered by the proliferation of numerous unlicensed shops selling illicit and counterfeit cannabis.

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