photo of sign saying new york weed

How to Open a Dispensary
in New York

By Liam Noonan


The medical marijuana market in New York isn’t for the faint of heart. A high cost of entry and limited licensing create difficult barriers to entry. 

The State is working to solve this issue and grow the industry by allowing more dispensaries to open. On March 31st, 2021, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill into law that legalized recreational cannabis in the state for those over the age of 21. You can view the full details of the bill here

New York will hopefully implement adult-use sales by the end of the year and companies are getting ready to set up shop. Do you have what it takes to open up a legal weed shop in the green apple? 

Continue reading to learn more about the legal weed laws in New York, how to apply for a license, and what you’ll need to get up and running.

The State of Legal Weed in New York 

New York first approved the legal use of medical marijuana back in 2014. This allowed registered patients with qualifying conditions to purchase weed from regulated suppliers. Medical licenses have since been highly regulated, but that could soon change. 

It may take up to 18 months for adult consumption sales to get off the ground, but securing your license is a great investment. Early estimates put the State’s overall cannabis market at $4.6 billion in annual sales (including the illicit market). Furthermore, the legal cannabis industry is expected to achieve $1.2 billion in sales by 2023. -Forbes 


image of statue of liberty holding weed leaf in front of green map of the united states                                 image credit @ HighTimes


The adult-use bill signed earlier in 2021 outlined 10 different types of license distinctions. More specifically, the plan grandfathers in any existing license holders. It’s also important to note that NY counties and municipalities can opt-out of recreational sales by December 31, 2021. 

The bill comes complete with a framework for social and economic equity applicants to try and reach 50% minority business owners. Along with the social equity application initiative, taxes from adult-use sales break down as follows. 40% of tax revenue will go to education, 40% to a community grants fund, and 20% to a drug treatment/education fund. 

Another unique aspect of New York’s plan for legalization is the acceptance of public consumption. This paves the way for consumption lounges which are a hot topic as a catalyst for the industry moving forward. 

How to Apply for a Dispensary License in New York

The full layout of the application process for recreational dispensaries in New York is not yet released. Once they are, they will establish the full regulations of the state’s adult-consumption program.

In the past, with medical dispensaries, applicants were required to pay a non-refundable deposit of $10,000 as well as a $200,000 fee if their license is approved. These regulations are brought forth by the New York State Office of Cannabis Management. You can find all of the currently available information on the rec program by visiting the adult-use hub on their website. 

With the infancy of the New York market and its regulations, we recommend hiring a consultant if you plan to open a dispensary when the state opens up. A couple of popular consulting firms include Higher Yields, Be Green Legal, Canna Advisors, and MJ Freeway

Something else you’ll need to keep in mind of moving forward is the local cannabis restrictions and laws. Some counties are even pushing to restrict the sale of cannabis in their jurisdiction. This situation remains fluid and we will keep you updated as the landscape evolves. As for right now, the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act’s local opt-out clause only pertains to retail and on-site consumption.  

How Does the NY Medical Market Work? 

Back in 2015, New York State’s Department of Health began accepting applications for companies to obtain a license to cultivate, manufacture, and dispense cannabis products to registered medical patients. As previously mentioned, applicants were required to submit a non-refundable $10,000 deposit on top of a $200,000 fee if they are approved for the license. 

The application window was extremely short and has remained closed since the end of 2015. The small number of organizations that did get licenses were able to manufacture and sell medical marijuana products in accordance with approval from the Department of Health.  

For patient approval in the New York Medical market, you are required to be suffering from specific conditions that are certified by your healthcare practitioner. Once approved, patients receive their medical ID cards and are eligible to purchase from licensed dispensaries. Some of the qualifying conditions include HIV, Cancer, Parkinson’s, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Chronic Pain, Neuropathy, seizures, and plenty more. 

Summary of New York’s Adult-Use Legalization Program

As previously explained, after years of limited medical only dispensary liceneses, New York became the 15th State to legalize recreational weed. The bill is now signed into law, but it will take a few month for sales to open up. 

Key Points From the Legalization Bill

  • Retail sales probably won’t begin until 2022
  • Cannabis will become recreationally legal for anyone over 21
  • It will allow for personal growing and use (allows 6 plants per person per home) 
  • Vertical integration will be prohibited
  • Cannabis delivery will become legal for licensed operators
  • Social consumption sites will eventually become legal
  • Final license & application instructions will continue rolling out
  • The full cost of adult-use licensure is yet to be determined


How to Market Your Dispensary 

Your first step in getting ready to apply for a dispensary license in New York should be to draft out a thorough business plan. This will help you prove your overall direction and path toward compliance. 

Once you are licensed, the job turns to marketing your dispensary. As the New York adult-use market heats up, competition between retailers will skyrocket. With difficult advertising regulations, getting your brand in front of potential consumers will require some organic content marketing. 

That’s where Stoned Root comes in. We offer affordable content marketing, SEO, and social media services to cannabis dispensaries looking to plant their digital roots and bring in organic roots. 

Want More Organic Traffic?

Creating quality content is hard, but we can help. Reach out to us today for a free quote and consultation!