BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Recreational cannabis stores are getting ready to open their doors for the first time in Western New York.

The New York State Cannabis Control Board awarded three provisional dispensary licenses to individuals and organizations in Western New York on Monday, according to a press release.

Those three licenses, which were among 99 approved statewide, are the first to be allocated to Western New York.

Aaron Van Camp was one of the people who was awarded his conditional adult-use retail dispensary license, or CAURD license.

“That process of waiting was just very stressful, because you think, is this really happening? Is this not happening?” Van Camp said.

Van Camp currently owns a bottle return business on Niagara Street. He tells News 4 that he enjoys running that business but he’s ready for more. This new venture is bitter sweet for him, because he served seven years in jail for possessing marijuana. Now more than 10 years later, he gets to own a retail shop selling it.

“I feel blessed,” he said. “I’m more than willing to take the opportunity if they give it to me and do as good of a job as I could possibly do.”

Now that the State’s Cannabis Control Board approved his license, the next step, is securing a location. Van Camp is reaching out to landlords around the city of buffalo to find the right space for his business.

“I’ve talked to some people who are like, yea you’re more than welcome to come here, and they’re ok with it,” he said. “Others from what we hear, they don’t want to be involved in this, they’re still skeptical with it being a federal crime still. We’re trying to get somewhere where everyone is happy. Landlord’s happy, I’m happy, it’s profitable and the neighbors, neighborhood are happy to have us.”

Attorney Joe Schafer represents clients applying for their CAURD license. He says today’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a sigh of relief for a lot of folks, two years past the MRTA being passed into law, and I think a lot of people, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the opening up of retail,” Schafer said. “We’re not going to have retail tomorrow, but it means we’re that much closer to getting our first dispensaries open in our region.”

According to an Office of Cannabis Management spokesperson, three organizations and one individual got the licenses in Western New York. The recipients are:

  • Aaron Van Camp, a “justice-involved applicant” who owned and operated BC Can & Bottle Return in Buffalo’s Riverside neighborhood for four years
  • AMSM, an LLC owned by Gina Miller and Glen Miller. Gina Miller, a “justice-involved applicant” and Orleans County resident, owned and operated A & S Miller, Inc. a retail store selling wine and spirits, for nine years. 
  • Premier Earth, a corporation owned by Joseph Wojciechowski. Wojciechowski, a “justice-involved applicant,” owned and operated River Bend Fabrication, a commercial truck up-fitting business in Buffalo for seven years.  

The board includes Rochester in the WNY region. The Flower City Shop, an LLC owned by Jamie Donato-Rivera and Phetnakhone Duangtavilay. Donato-River, a “justice-involved applicant,” owned and operated Be Xquisite, a retail clothing store in Rochester, New York, for two years. 

The licenses are provisional, meaning license-holders will have to submit a secondary supplemental application and notify the municipality they’ll be operating in, according to a resolution passed by the board.

Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses allow business owners to legally open adult-use recreational marijuana dispensaries. In order to be eligible, individual applicants must have owned a “profitable business” and been convicted of a marijuana offense or be the family member of someone who has. Nonprofit organizations are eligible if they, among other requirements, have a “history of serving current or formerly incarcerated individuals.”

“The approval of these licenses will help expedite building a robust and diverse supply chain while also ensuring that individuals that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition have meaningful opportunities to participate in the industry,” Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management, said in a statement.   

Alongside Western New York, Central New York, the Mid-Hudson region and Brooklyn all got their first provisional licenses. The State Cannabis Board couldn’t issue licenses in all four of those regions prior to the modification of a court injunction last week.

The board has granted at least one CAURD provisional license in every region except the Finger Lakes. An injunction is blocking the issuance of any injunctions there.

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.