Saladin Amir was convicted for selling marijuana about 20 years ago.

“I was in college at the time for business and when I did get arrested, I lost all of that,” Saladin Amir said.

He spent more than 3 years behind bars. Saladin said that one incident cost him his career, family and freedom, and even after doing the time it still haunts him.

“They felony still sits on my record today like I’m that same person that is willing to go against the law, which I’m not,” he said.

But he’s just the person Marco Flag from the Center for Law and Justice wants to work with. He is helping Amir navigate his newest business venture, a cannabis dispensary.

This time around it’s possible. Decriminalization and legal recreational use of marijuana in New York made way for Gov. Hochul to recently announce that people with past cannabis-related criminal offenses would be first in line to receive “Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary Licenses.”  

“Instead of starting with the same existing operators who are dominating the national space, we’ve decided to start with those have been most impacted at the center of what we are building here today,” Chris Alexander, director of OCM, said.

They call it “the seeding initiative opportunity,” hoping to grow equity among people who were disproportionately affected during the “war on drugs era.”

“This is going to be a market and no doubt there are some hungry rich and powerful businesses that are coming,” Flagg said. “That have nothing to do with equity and drug wars and all that.”

Under the new program, the state would also help secure and renovate storefronts for the dispensary startups. Flagg says that it’s progress, but the real green extends beyond just brick and mortar.

“Cultivation is were opportunities for making revenue can be the highest, so your forcing some folks into the lowest part while restricting access to the highest and most rewarding licenses,” Flagg  said.

For now, they’re continuing to prepare for the application process. Amir says some may see this as a reward, but he see it as reparations.

“This would be a good boost in order to level the playing field as far as economics and independence and give us a chance to pull ourselves up by our boot straps,” Amir said.