How one New York law firm is leveraging their licensing expertise in the recreational cannabis landscape

Apr 1, 2019

Despite not making it into the New York State budget on Monday, efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the Empire State are not stalling. Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed to Forbes that negotiations would continue before the session of state congress closes at the end of the June.

While many policy experts and cannabis enthusiasts were confident that at least some sort of proposal would have made it into the budget this month, they are now busy preparing themselves for the next round.

“We’re going to have to wait and see. The biggest factor for us is legalization and how quickly it goes,” Joseph Levey, a founding partner at the Helbraun-Levey law firm in New York City, explained to PotNetwork.

Helbraun-Levey specializes in hospitality, and their client list includes over 2500 bars and nightclubs in the city. Joseph Levey oversees all New York State Alcohol Beverage Control Law and liquor licensing matters, and he has recently expanded the legal team’s expertise to include the cannabis market. They provide legal advice and consultation for clients interested in cannabis and have started a program of free educational seminars—called CannaChats—for those interested in what the recreational landscape could look like in New York.

Learning how to navigate the open landscape of recreational cannabis

According to Levey and his legal team, recreational cannabis in New York will have “a much more open landscape” than the current market for medical marijuana. Where medical marijuana companies are required to be fully integrated with trackable seed-to-sale formats, recreational marijuana will be the complete opposite. 

In fact, recreational cannabis will keep wholesalers out of the retail space altogether by using a tiered licensing program that mirrors New York’s existing ABC licensing laws. This is where Helbraun-Levey’s expertise comes in handy.

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“We have more liquor licenses than anyone else in the state, and we’ve spent more than ten years building relationships with the people working in these businesses, including the State Liquor Authority in Albany,” Levey said. “That’s the reason we’re getting into this market so aggressively. We’ve taken efforts to build a community . . . and we’re doing the same for cannabis.”

From coast to coast, legalized marijuana looks different in every state. Helbraun-Levey wants to leverage their experience with liquor licensing for incoming cannabis businesses by helping them understand what the legal landscape could look like in New York. And their network of relationships within the hospitality scene and the liquor licensing authority give them the first-hand experience that is necessary to succeed in an industry like cannabis.

What will recreational cannabis look like in New York?

When it comes to alcohol, New York is a licensing state. It means that New York issues licenses to individuals or companies to manufacture, sell, and distribute, creating three tiers of licensing. The team at Helbraun-Levey and many other policy experts anticipate that cannabis will also operate with three similar tiers of licensing.

Different classes of cannabis licenses means different kinds of businesses can participate in the recreational sphere through manufacturing, wholesaling, and retail. This opens the doors for many opportunities but also many questions, giving Joseph Levey and his team the opportunity to educate and prepare people for this brand new cannabis landscape.

And the landscape is already proving to be a little tricky. New Jersey failed to pass their own recreational laws, putting pressure on New York to deliver on their proposals. But failing to make it into the budget this month is not putting a damper on Levey’s optimistic outlook.

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“An open landscape means more opportunities,” Levey said. “Not only for us but for New York. This is the right class of people to get this movement going, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.”

Levey was already looking forward to the June dates of the New York State Assembly when PotNetwork caught up with him earlier this week. For him, the April 1 budget was a hard maybe, and while he and many other New Yorkers remain optimistic, Levey knows that timing is key.

“People are just starting to get comfortable with cannabis,” he said. “You have to take your time to roll out these programs.”

How long will it take to legalize recreational cannabis in New York? That question remains unanswered. In the meantime, Helbraun-Levey’s plans for the future include more seminars in the coming months as well as an In The Weed newsletter on their blog that will update and evolve as the legal landscape continues to change in New York.

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