Syracuse, N.Y. — Mike Flynn is ready to sell legal marijuana. He’s already invested more than $3 million to set up his business.
His gleaming 15,000-square-foot weed shop in the heart of Armory Square, with its polished floors, glass display cases and digital menu screens, is complete (except for products) and could open today.
There’s just one problem: Although the state legalized the possession of recreational marijuana more than a year ago, retailers like Flynn probably can’t get a license to sell legal weed until the spring of 2023.
“It’s so frustrating,” said Flynn, whose planned marijuana dispensary, currently called Flynnstoned Cannabis Co., is at 219 Walton St., in the former home of an Urban Outfitters store. “I’m ready to go.”
“I could open today and bring people down here, if the state would let me,” he said. “I could have 30 to 40 (employees) here, pounding. I could bring people down here to Armory Square, give them a reason to come down. I could be paying the state taxes. We could do this now.”
Building an industry
The state’s marijuana legalization law approved in March 2021 instantly made it legal for those 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana. But it’s still not legal to buy or sell it, except on some of the state’s Indian nations.
Over the last 14 months, the state has set up an agency to oversee marijuana (the Office of Cannabis Management), appointed board members and hired employees. It has written some regulations and begun the process of building an industry.
So far this year, the state issued about 200 “conditional” licenses to grow recreational marijuana, and it recently announced the start of applications for companies to “process” the marijuana into consumer products.
It has started the process to license retail shops, known as dispensaries. The first retail licenses could go later this year to applicants who meet the state’s social equity requirements, including those who have been convicted of past marijuana offenses no longer considered crimes. (Flynn does not meet those requirements).
The first of those licenses, under what the state calls a “Seeding Opportunity Initiative,” could open up as soon as this summer, said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the OCM. Most of those would be awarded in the New York City area. The state will also assist in the building and leasing of dispensaries through that program.
“We expect additional licensing opportunities to open in the first half of 2023,” Klopott said.
Klopott defended the pace of the state’s cannabis program, noting it only really got underway with the start-up of the Office of Cannabis Management last fall.
“It has been about a half-a-year since the agency got its start and with the first sales expected before the end of 2022, we’re beating expectations on how quickly the market could be opened,” Klopott said.
‘I want to be a part of it’
Flynn does not meet the social equity criteria for early licensees. Although he is a long-time fan of marijuana he says he “only got caught with a few small amounts and ticketed.”
But he does have plenty of practical business experience. He owns The Roofing Guys, a Geddes-based residential roofing company, and has bought, or is buying other properties in Armory Square and around the county.
Last summer, just a few months after marijuana became legal in New York, Flynn purchased the three-story building at 219 Walton near the Onondaga Creekwalk. He paid $2 million in cash for the building and put $1.2 million into renovations.
He’s also put a lot of thought into the function and design of the space, which could be one of the largest marijuana dispensaries in the state. Initially, Flynn envisioned his shop as something smaller.
“It started off, like, boutique,” he said. “Then I started thinking, let’s go big. Let’s make this a destination and bring people down here.”
The first floor is a giant entry hall, with a security check-in and imaginative décor worthy of Instagram posts.
“There’s a ‘wow’ factor as you come in,” Flynn said. “The space makes you go, ‘Wow, there’s something going here.’ ”
The second floor will house the products, which will include marijuana “flower,” edibles and pre-rolled joints, along with merchandise such as rolling papers, CBD oil, T-shirts, hats and coffee mugs.
The upper floor would be a private event space.
Security is a major component, with at least 76 surveillance cameras and a single entry and a single separate exit.
Much of that will be required under the state’s laws and licensing rules. But Flynn is also a little frustrated by the many details the state hasn’t yet set down in writing.
There is the possibility, for example, that he will be forced to take the word “stoned” off the company’s name and logos, and get rid of the pot flower symbol used throughout his décor. (The state is still working on its advertising and marketing rules).
Although he’s frustrated by the delays, Flynn said he will not be tempted into offering marijuana through a gray or black market. Such illegal enterprises have popped up in both New York City and in parts of Upstate, including Syracuse.
“I have too much invested in this to take that risk,” he said. “Yes, I’d like to see this all move faster. But when it does open up, I want to be a part of it.”
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