Opening a Cannabis Dispensary in New York: 10 Key Steps

If you’re interested in diving into what is sure to be a competitive and exciting cannabis market in New York state, there are 10 key steps you’ll need to take first. 

The end goal will be to apply for a dispensary license, but to do that you’ll need to understand what is required by the Cannabis Control Board for approval. This breakdown provides a high-level overview of some of the key steps you will need to take to win a cannabis dispensary license in New York.  

1.  Know the Applicable Laws and Regulations

It’s always good to know what you’re getting into legally. Cannabis is, after all, an industry not federally recognized, so there are going to be some unique –  let’s call them quirks (others may call them headaches) – to getting involved and opening a dispensary. A good starting place would be the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA). This is the law which legalized the adult-use market in the state.

New York is in the process of detailing more license requirements and it is good to stay on top of each of these, even if they may not be applicable to you and your business. They can offer insight into what the State is prioritizing and help you gather essential materials.

Additional helpful resources can be found here:

Cannabis Conversations

Office of Cannabis Management

New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund

Of course, all this initial research can only go so far. The next step is arguably one of the most important to assessing if pursuing a cannabis dispensary is even a possibility.

2.  Determine Your Eligibility

As you read the laws and regulations, you’ll encounter the eligibility requirements for a New York dispensary license. While we may not have all the specifics on these now, here are some general requirements we have seen in other states that are likely to be included for New York. 

  • You must be at least 21 years of age
  • You must not have any felony convictions (this is different from expunged cannabis convictions in the state of New York)
  • You must not have had a cannabis license revoked in the past
  • You must not be delinquent on New York state taxes

You will need to pay attention closely to these to ensure you and others who will be part of the application meet the eligibility requirements. If your team meets these requirements, then you could be able to apply. Again, these requirements are subsequent to change so be sure to check the most up-to-date regulations. 

3.  Build Your Team

While you may be doing a lot of this application work on your own, you won’t be able to run and operate your dispensary on your own. That’s why it’s important to engage with others and bring them onto your team to eventually work and support your business. 

The team itself is daily broad and can encompass not only C-suite executives (CEO, CFO, CCO, etc.), but also inventory managers, general managers, and even dispensary associates or “budtenders.” This also can include any third parties you may want to contract with. These could include cannabis consultants, security partners, law firms, architects, and more.

You will not need to have every position filled or identified before you apply, but having a robust and well-rounded team with cannabis and business experience will help in guiding you through some of the more complex areas not only of the application process but also the day to day operations in a heavily regulated industry such as cannabis.

4.  Create a Business Plan

A business plan can help in better understanding the aims and opportunities presented within the business for others and yourself. This is a great exercise between yourselves as owners and founders of the business and, more than likely, a cannabis consultant to articulate succinctly the vision of the dispensary. The business plan can help acquire capital, recruit team members, expand brand awareness, and gain local support.

This can also help improve one’s understanding of the cannabis market state-wide and regionally, the financial needs of the business, and create a compelling narrative for an investment ask. This plan can even be a blueprint for one’s license application. 

5.  Create a Business Entity

You as an individual will not be applying for the cannabis license, but the business you own and operate will. In the cannabis industry, we most frequently find applicants forming limited liability companies (LLCs) or corporations (c-corp or s-corp). This choice is dependent on many factors, many of them tax-related, and it’s best to talk with a local attorney about what business entity you should form and why this choice would be the best for you. 

6.  Identify Your Location

When identifying a location that could be both practical and economically beneficial for your dispensary, it’s good to keep a few essential items in mind. This would include making sure that it is zoned correctly, meets all the local requirements, and does not violate any of the requirements laid out by the State of New York.

There is no right answer when it comes to leasing or owning a location, it depends on each applicant’s own abilities and constraints as both leasing and owning come with benefits and downsides.

Applicants will be required to submit information on a location for the business. A specific location and its address may not be required to open your dispensary, but it will be good to be able to present regulators with at least realistic options for a location and details about it. This will show not only that you have done your research, but that should you win a license you will be able to move quickly to open your business to the public. 

7.  Establish Local Support

One of the most important things that an applicant can do is to establish local support with the municipal government and local businesses and nonprofits. These connections can make or break an applicant’s chances at winning a license. Given the length of time building this trust can take, it’s best to start this earlier rather than later.

You will need this support for your dispensary to be within the municipal borders, so it is always good to have an ally instead of an adversary at this critical stage.

8.  Acquire Capital

Opening and running a dispensary in any marketplace, but especially New York, is a costly venture. Not everyone has the financial means themselves to open a business which demands costs that include, but is not limited to real estate, schematic designs, attorneys, marketing, consultants, security, and more. And after securing the license, build-out costs, salaries, and benefits for employees, and cannabis itself can reach upwards of millions of dollars.

This is all why raising capital is vital to the longevity of a business. All the steps taken previously will aid in this effort to raise funds from outside investors, but there is only so much that can be done without an actual dispensary location.   

9.  Write Your License Application

With all the materials gathered and understood, the actual writing part of the application can begin. This writing process can be arduous, which is why it’s important if not a necessary requirement to have your technical materials reviewed, edited, or potentially even written themselves by a cannabis consultant or an attorney. Once everything has been written and reviewed, you can do the final step in this process.

10. Submit Your Dispensary Application and Pay Your Fees

When all your material for the license has been written and reviewed, you can submit your application to the Office of Cannabis Management. You will be required to pay a nonrefundable fee as well which can be upwards of $2,000. There will also be an additional licensing fee but the amount for this has yet to be determined.


The application process for a New York dispensary is a lengthy, complex, and oftentimes stressful journey. This step-by-step guide can hopefully give you a high-level overview of the process itself and help you identify if this is a business venture you’d not only be interested in, but able to commit to and succeed in.


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