Middletown couple fight through lawsuits, zoning problems to open New Paltz cannabis dispensary

They were blocked from opening their dispensary for five months last year because of a lawsuit.

Ben Nandy

Apr 18, 2024, 10:13 PM

Updated 30 days ago

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A Middletown couple fought through lawsuits, zoning problems and being on the brink of bankruptcy to finally open their cannabis dispensary in New Paltz.
They were blocked from opening their dispensary for five months last year because of a lawsuit.
They were essentially zoned out of any chance of opening in Orange County.
They were recently named in a lawsuit.
Kareem Haynesworth and fiancée Zymia Lewis have pushed past those obstacles, though it cost almost all their life savings, and they are preparing for challenges ahead as they set up shop in the village of New Paltz, an eclectic college town about 20 miles north of Newburgh.
New Paltz residents have been eagerly anticipating the opening.
The day after Big Gas Dispensary's soft opening, eight people were waiting outside the Chestnut Street building 15 minutes before the opening of Day 2.
"I'm very excited about it," Zach Berger, a private chef from Woodstock, said. "I'm happy to be here."
"A lot of people have ben waiting for New Paltz to get something like this," Erica Febre, who worked at some of the local cannabis showcases recently held in the village.
Haynesworth and Lewis received their dispensary license nearly a year ago under the state's social justice licensing policy.
Through the program, the New York State Office of Cannabis Management awarded the first 400-plus licenses to people who have previously been convicted of cannabis-related offenses (Haynesworth won an early license because he once served eight months in jail for selling cannabis prior to fell legalization).
A group of disabled veterans and a group of large and small companies sued the OCM in August 2023, challenging the social justice licensing policy.
Big Gas and several other Hudson Valley licensees were on the verge of starting their shops and delivery services when State Supreme Court Judge Kevin Bryant issued an injunction blocking those businesses from opening until resolution of the lawsuit.
The injunction lasted five months.
Once the injunction was lifted, Haynesworth and Lewis tried to find a retail location in Woodbury, whose town board "opted in" to cannabis sales.
The couple could not find a space, though, because zoning laws allow dispensaries only in a certain part of town and commercial landlords in that area would not rent to them.
Then the OCM intervened, offering Haynesworth and Lewis the pre-approved space on Chestnut St.
Many cannabis retailers consider having a dispensary in New Paltz – known for a vibrant college scene and a haven to hipsters - to be the holy grail.
"In order to win, you have to be relentless," Haynesworth said. "It's a cut-throat business, a cut-throat industry. Only the strong survive. We're definitely going to survive and make our impact."
"I'm an enormous proponent of adults making their own choices," New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers said during an interview Thursday at Village Hall.
Rogers said village leaders did not just "opt in" to cannabis sales; they proactively lobbied the OCM for a dispensary.
"We're a pro-decriminalization community," he said. "We want to be non-judgmental. That's why I believe New Paltz is more comfortable than maybe some other communities would be."


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