New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – The first sale of legal, adult-use recreational marijuana in New York took place Thursday at a licensed Manhattan weed dispensary, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the state’s long-running cannabis saga.
Housing Works Cannabis Company opened near Astor Place in a 4,400 square-foot storefront featuring a white-walled, minimalist feel. The site threw a kickoff party on Thursday, complete with a DJ and binge-worthy snacks including banana pudding and Fruity Pebbles.
“We can get weed legal now,” said Kay Davis, who traveled to Astor Place from the South Bronx. “We don’t have to duck and dodge when we’re getting high. That’s a beautiful thing for the city.”
“I want to say, New York — enjoy the legalized weed!”
The first transaction of the day was made by Chris Alexander, executive director of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, at an event mainly for press and politicians. He purchased watermelon gummies.
That afternoon, Ken Woodin became the first retail customer as the dispensary opened to the general public at 4:20 p.m.. As the sun set, the line continued to wrap around the block, stretching from Broadway to Lafayette Street.
The day had been a long time in the making, coming nearly two years after recreational-use marijuana was legalized in New York and just over a month after the state issued its first 36 retail licenses. The office of Gov. Hochul called it “the official opening” of the state’s legal cannabis market, and a new source of tax revenue for schools, addiction and mental health services, and housing.
“I must give it up to the governor for keeping her promise to open one before the end of 2022,” said Derrick Hossain, 33, of Queens, and the fourth customer on line when the storefront opened to the public. “Even if it was down to the wire, she did it. I’ll give her props for that.”
Amid that concern, Mayor Adams announced a major crackdown on unlicensed cannabis shops. The New York City Sheriff’s Office and other agencies seized 600 pounds of weed and issued 500 civil summonses and 66 criminal summonses to dealers selling unregulated pot as part of the enforcement program.
“Legalization for us has never been about just freedom to plant,” Alexander said. “We recognized really early the intersectionality of this issue, the way that we could use this fight to uplift other fights, other voices. For not just significant criminal justice reform, access to health care … but also making sure we’re creating opportunity in a new way, that we’re prioritizing repairing harm that’s been done even by the state’s own policy.”
All proceeds go to Housing Works’ efforts to help people with a history of substance abuse, who have been homeless or who have been incarcerated, especially for weed possession.
The legal site, which formerly housed a Gap store offers a variety of adult-use cannabis products grown and processed by minority-, women- and LGBTQ-run farms and businesses in the Empire State.
The dispensary offers smokable weed, commonly referred to as flower, as well as prerolled joints, tinctures, concentrates and edibles. Regular store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, and will expand in the coming months. The site is for shopping only — not consumption, and currently just accepts cash.
Sorbet-colored signs plastered around the store tell patrons: “We’re smoking out stigma” and “To be blunt, your shopping saves lives.”
One of the vendors, Will Leibee of Back Home Cannabis Company in High Falls, N.Y., told the Daily News that he was already growing 150 vegetables for the Union Square farmers market when he considered adding marijuana to the list. He started growing three strains of flower and submitted them for two weeks of lab testing.
“I had no worries about failing the test because our growing practices, we don’t take any shortcuts,” said Leibee, who’s now one of the first six vendors at the legal storefront — with several dozen others in the pipeline.
Housing Works was one of eight nonprofits to receive a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary license in November, allowing for recreational pot sales after the 2021 Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act legalized the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for New Yorkers 21 and older.
Charles King, CEO and a founder of Housing Works, says the organization’s “first claim to fame” was that it was the country’s first supportive housing program without regard for use of drugs or alcohol in the privacy of people’s own homes.
“We have seen firsthand the ravages of the war on drugs on people who use drugs, particularly the most marginalized people, low-income people, and it’s no accident that disproportionately people who are incarcerated for possession and sale of drugs are people who are Black, Latino or Latina,” said King.
“We believe in safe supply. We believe in full decriminalization. We believe that people ought to be able to be allowed to live their lives.”
State law made it so nonprofits and those most impacted by the enforcement of past pot laws would be at the front of the line for retail and other cannabis-related licenses in an attempt to ensure larger, multistate operators didn’t flood the market as they have in other states where weed is legal.
“Every single state that did this before paid lip service to this idea; they had rhetoric of equity. But when the program got running, in the end, major corporate players dominated. We cannot let that happen in New York,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
“We know that there are some other places that people could purchase this product, we won’t get into that. But when you buy here, you know the product has been regulated; that it is safe. You’re going to be buying brands that are led by New Yorkers of color and marginalized communities here in the store.”
Housing Works, which currently operates a dozen thrift stores and a famed SoHo bookstore as well as running services for the homeless and those with HIV/AIDS, was granted one of the first retail licenses issued under the state’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative.
All revenue generated from dispensary sales will be directed back to the group’s parent organization, which provides job opportunities, legal advocacy and housing and health services. Housing Works runs a dozen supportive housing sites and homeless shelters as well as nearly 300 “scatter site” apartments across the five boroughs.
“We’re just very excited that it’s really for a good cause,” said Hassan Mocaddam, 32, from Brooklyn. “As a first license to go in New York, what better way than to give it to a nonprofit where you can see where the money goes.”
A second New York City-based homeless services provider, the Doe Fund, also received one of the retail licenses issued last month and is planning a storefront dispensary in lower Manhattan.