A lawsuit by a Harlem business group against a proposed cannabis dispensary was dismissed Monday by a New York state court judge, who found that the business group was not yet harmed since the dispensary can’t operate until its license is finalized.
Judge Shahabuddeen A. Ally wrote in his decision that the dispensary applicant had only received a provisional license in January for the planned location at 248 W. 125th St., near the Apollo Theater. The 125th Street Business District Management Association Inc., the plaintiff, knew about the proposed dispensary by the New York government in December, leading them to file suit in April.
The judge noted that Harlem’s community board hasn’t offered its advisory opinion on the dispensary proposal after the applicant informed the board about it following the initiation of the suit. The final decision on the license rests with the New York State Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, Judge Ally wrote.
“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,” Judge Ally said in his ruling.
“Further, because the dispensary is not yet operational, petitioner cannot demonstrate that its members have suffered cognizable injury that can provide standing to bring this proceeding at this time.”
He added, “A private entity’s investment of money and time into renovating the premises before full licensure has been granted is a risk that lies with that entity.”
Judge Ally also ruled that Harlem’s public deserves the opportunity to express opinions about the proposed dispensary to their community board, asserting that preventing the dispensary’s establishment would hinder the community board from sharing its views.
But for the past eight months, the business group asserted that the proposed dispensary would exacerbate existing public health issues and increase violent crime, property crimes, pedestrian congestion, and cannabis marketing.
Those concerns were brought by the group’s head honcho Barbara Askins in a December letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, providing some light at the time on the community’s already existing challenges.
In response to the lawsuit in April, Jeffrey Gordon, a representative for DASNY, clarified that the agency solely assesses the proposed location, not other tenants of the property owner. However, industry experts have labeled the situation a significant issue and a potential conflict of interest.
According to NYPD statistics, crime rates in the Central Harlem precinct, including the proposed dispensary site, have slightly increased in 2022. A 2019 study from CUNY’s John Jay College showed that streets near cannabis dispensaries in Denver did see “significantly higher” levels of property crime. Advocates, however, argue that legalizing marijuana can benefit neighborhoods by creating jobs and generating tax revenue.
The lawsuit underscores the growing discontent among communities feeling sidelined from the program’s planning stages. Several local officials have expressed shock at the site’s plans, but the 125th Street group had already voiced concerns as regulators were preparing the rollout.
Still, the judge on Monday rejected the notion that the process is pre-determined or “rigged” — stating the business group could sue if licensure is granted and their concerns remain unaddressed.
The proposal to open a cannabis dispensary in Harlem is the latest hurdle in New York’s efforts to establish a licensed, legal marijuana market, challenged by the proliferation of hundreds of unlicensed shops selling local and counterfeit cannabis en masse.