‘Good Businessman and Terrible Criminal’ Seeks Pot License
Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll look at people who were punished for drug offenses and are now applying to open retail cannabis dispensaries in New York State. We’ll also look at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s widening lead in her bid for her first full term, along with Democrats’ efforts to focus on abortion in House races in the suburbs.
Howell Miller was arrested in 2005 after orchestrating a shipment of marijuana to New York. He spent 18 months in prison, then started a construction company.
He had more than 20 employees on the payroll when it folded in 2012 because he was going back to prison, this time for smuggling more than 11 tons of marijuana from Mexico over 10 years. He was released in January.
Now he would appear to be just what New York State wants in an applicant for a license to run a retail cannabis dispensary.
“I used to sell illegally and make millions,” he told my colleague Ashley Southall, adding: “I’m a good businessman and a terrible criminal. So let’s do it legit now.”
That’s what state officials are hoping to hear as people who were punished for marijuana offenses apply to open stores where they can legally sell recreational cannabis.
The state is weeks away from issuing the first four-year retail cannabis licenses, earmarked for people convicted of marijuana-related crimes in state courts. Regulators plan to issue 150 licenses, with not quite half of them going to applicants seeking locations in New York City. Another 25 will go to nonprofits serving people who were arrested or incarcerated.
The deadline to apply for a license was on Monday, and just over 900 applications were filed. There was a $2,000 application fee that had to be paid by check.
The regulators will spend the next 30 days reviewing and scoring the applications, seeking additional information or clarifications as necessary. The application asked prospective retailers to rank their preferences for where they wanted to do business.
Those who are offered licenses will be offered a location and will have to submit a business plan. They will not have to deal with leasing storefronts and hiring contractors to build counters and shelves, but they will have to stock their inventory. The state requires them to buy from state-licensed growers, so the supply chain starts with the government and runs through marijuana farms upstate.
New York is trying a different strategy than other states, which have either barred people with certain criminal convictions or set aside only some of the licenses for those affected by the nation’s long war on drugs. New York is the only state that is vaulting applicants with a drug-related past to the front of the line and removing two of the biggest barriers to entry in cannabis: access to financing and real estate. Miller, who is 52, hopes to jump-start the legal marijuana market in the Bronx, where he started packaging pot when he was 10 years old.
That approach has its critics. Patrick Phelan, the executive director of the New York State Association of Chief of Police, said it was “unfair” to give preferential treatment to people with convictions. His organization opposes legalization, citing concerns about dispensary customers who would drive while high.
It’s a mostly sunny day, with temps near the high 60s. The evening is partly cloudy, with temps around the mid-50s.
In effect until Wednesday (Yom Kippur).
Steady in reading, down in math
The picture from the first standardized test results that captured how city schoolchildren did during the pandemic was mixed. There were sharp declines in math, with less than 38 percent of third through eighth graders demonstrating proficiency, down from about 46 percent before the pandemic.
But relatively steady reading scores bucked a national trend toward setbacks in literacy. Seventh graders scored nearly 10 points higher than seventh graders in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. But among fourth graders, who would have been attending classes remotely in earlier grades when the fundamentals of reading were taught, students averaged about six points lower this time around than fourth graders did in 2019.
My colleague Troy Closson says the results step up the pressure on Mayor Eric Adams and the schools chancellor, David Banks, to get students back on track. The scores may also intensify questions about City Hall’s move to cut more than $200 million from the school budget.
The latest Metro news
Here are three numbers that have to do with the New York governor’s race: 40, 17 and 3.
Election Day is 40 days away. Gov. Kathy Hochul, above, has widened her lead over her Republican challenger, Representative Lee Zeldin, to 17 percentage points in a new Siena College poll. That is three more percentage points than a Siena College survey last month.
My colleagues Luis Ferré-Sadurné and Nicholas Fandos write that the poll was the latest indication that Zeldin is facing an uphill battle. New York has not elected a Republican governor since George Pataki won his third term in 2002.
Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo seeking her first full term, has made significant gains in the New York City suburbs. She beat Zeldin by five percentage points in the new poll compared with the one last month, which had her trailing him by three points in the suburbs.
Hochul has been spending heavily on television and digital advertising this month, portraying Zeldin as “extreme and dangerous,” based on his votes to overturn the 2020 election results in key states and his views on abortion, an issue other Democrats hope to use to their advantage in the Long Island suburbs that Zeldin is a product of.
This is an unusual election cycle for Long Island: Three of the four House seats that take in most of the island are open because incumbents are retiring or, like Zeldin, are seeking a different job. The two districts that are mostly in Nassau County, just east of Queens, are represented by Democrats. The two seats farther east in Suffolk County are held by Republicans, one of them Zeldin.
Democrats hope that a focus on abortion will prove to be a winning strategy on Long Island. Bridget Fleming, the Democrat seeking to succeed Zeldin, has built her campaign around affordability and the environment — and on protecting women’s right to choose.
Her opponent, Nicholas LaLota, brushed off Democrats’ focus on reproductive rights, saying New York already had some of the strictest protections in the country. He said that voters in the district “who live paycheck to paycheck were more concerned about rising interest rates and prices.”
Laura Gillen, a Democrat running for one of the Nassau County seats, is in a tight race with Anthony D’Esposito, a former New York City police detective, to succeed Representative Kathleen Rice. A Democrat who is not running for re-election, Rice said that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was “a wake-up call that elections have consequences.”
But she also said that voters on Long Island “want to hear about how we’re going to get inflation under control, and public safety,” adding that both remained touchy issues for Democrats in New York.
I was leaving Bryant Park with a friend when a girl accidentally tripped up the steps we were walking down. Her phone landed at my feet.
As I bent to pick it up, she noticed the drink in my hand.
“Oooh, boba,” she said. “Yum!”
“It’s winter melon tea,” I said, smiling and handing her the phone.