How to Get Started on Your New York Cannabis Business License Application

By Brandon Kurtzman, Bridgette Nikisher

Jul 5, 2022

New York’s adult-use cannabis industry is underway, and with the release of more license categories on the horizon, we are gearing up for a historical licensing round. To beat the summer slump, VS’s New York team created an eight-part series of VS Insights to help you prepare for your New York cannabis business license application. The series will cover essential topics for New York cannabis entrepreneurs, such as finding real estate, branding and trademarks, fundraising and investment, qualifying as a social equity applicant, communicating with municipal officials, and environmental requirements. 

We expect New York to grant some of the licenses using a competitive application process; meaning groups will be required to submit comprehensive graded applications for a limited number of licenses. To win, groups must provide compelling responses to all the application requirements. We can look to previous and ongoing licensing rounds in New York and other markets to help you prepare. Read on for the first part of the series, which focuses on helpful tips to put your best foot forward for the licensing process.

Know New York’s Cannabis Laws and Regulations

If you don’t know the rules, it’s hard to play the game. Take the time to carefully read through the relevant cannabis law and regulations so you know what you legally can and cannot do. If the info in your application is not compliant with the law, how can you expect the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to think you can run a compliant cannabis business?  

Review all Available Resources Relevant to Your Desired New York Cannabis License

Beyond knowing the law and regulations, seek all other relevant information and resources related to the application process and your desired license. The OCM has been publishing fact sheets at cannabis.ny.gov and is constantly updating these fact sheets and issuing additional resources. Keep an eye out for guidance, FAQs, and OCM contact opportunities. For example, OCM did a series of webinars on preparing for the Conditional Adult-use Retail Dispensary License applications. Did you watch? 

Familiarize Yourself with New York’s Business Express Portal

The business express portal is New York’s state-wide business portal. This portal was used for Cannabinoid Hemp licensing, Conditional Adult-use Cultivator licensing, and Conditional Adult-use Processor licensing, and we anticipate it will be used for future licensing rounds. Some things we’ve learned from our experience working with the portal:

  • You are often only able to upload one document per prompt, so you may need to combine PDF files and prepare a cover sheet, table of contents, or other means of identifying the files uploaded

  • To save progress, you must answer every question on the current screen. You can save and close and return at another time

  • You must verify your account within 48 hours of creating it, so ensure you have access to the associated email account

Finalize Your Corporate Structure and Begin Gathering Documentation Now

Finalizing your corporate structure is one of the most time-consuming tasks with many moving pieces, so it’s best to get it checked off your list as soon as possible. Below are a few examples of corporate documents regulators have asked for as part of licensing applications:

  • Articles of Incorporation/Certificate of Formation 

  • Certificate of Good Standing, or equivalent

  • Organizational Charts

  • EIN Letter and other tax-related documents

  • Pro-Forma for capital and operational expenses 

  • Documentation evidencing financial strength/capacity

Create a Strong, Credible Team for Your Cannabis Business

Your team should be comprised of individuals with the necessary experience and talent to run your desired cannabis business. For everyone on your team, ensure you collect documentation and evidence of their capabilities and experience, including resumes, bios, photocopies of government-issued ID, and background check authorization forms. For example, for the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses, the OCM indicated that you will need to provide at least the following for the justice-involved individual:

  • Proof of conviction 

  • Proof of residency at time of conviction 

  • Proof of relationship

  • Proof of business ownership

  • Proof of profitability

Also, remember that adding medical professionals and consultants with experience in pharmaceutical operations, cannabis, security, compliance, etc. can help demonstrate your readiness to operate a successful business.

Start Your New York Cannabis Property Search

For nearly all New York cannabis license categories, finding a property is the most crucial part of the application process. You should conduct thorough diligence on your desired property and engage with local officials from your desired municipality to ensure you can get the necessary approvals. Keep in mind that:

  • New York requires a buffer zone for retail and on-site consumption licenses of 500 feet from school grounds and 200 feet from a house of worship

  • Municipalities may adopt more or less restrictive setback requirements for certain license types

  • Making connections within the community will help establish a mutually beneficial and positive relationship with the community you will be working with, strengthening your application

Identify and Prioritize the Most Time-Consuming Portions of the New York Cannabis Application

Inevitably, portions of the application will take longer than others. These portions may include negotiating Labor Peace Agreements, securing insurance, preparing financial statements, locating properties, and collecting unique documentation. Preparing cannabis license applications can be daunting, but with proper planning, they are very manageable.

Interested in applying for a New York cannabis business license? Don’t delay! VS has a track record of success and is ready to help you get started on initial preparation—including corporate formation, real estate, and community benefits outreach—before applications are released. Contact our New York team today to get started.

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