A tin of Florist Farms watermelon gummies and a jar of cannabis flower became the first, legal adult-use cannabis products sold in New York state on Thursday.
The buyer was none other than New York State Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander, who grinned as he clutched the products outside of Housing Works Cannabis Co., the state’s first — and at the moment, only — licensed, adult use dispensary.
“Equity is not a thing, it is the thing and it is what … our program is built around. We will never stop pushing to make New York a more fair, more equitable and more just state,” Alexander said during a press conference.
The market’s debut makes good on promises from regulators that adult use cannabis sales would kick off in New York state before the year’s end -- in spite of lengthy delays and setbacks, particularly under former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“There's been lots of pits and challenges and a lot of people who didn't think that we were going to hit the goal of quarter four and 2022 opening a store, but I want to say, hallelujah, we are here together,” Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremain Wright said.
Nonprofit Housing Works was one of a cohort of individuals and organizations to earn a license to sell adult-use cannabis in New York’s nascent program. After receiving conditional approval on Nov. 21, its dispensary became the first to open its doors to the public on Thursday. The nonprofit advocates for and provides services to the homeless population, those with HIV/AIDS and those dealing with substance abuse. It also operates a well-known chain of thrift stores and a bookshop.
“We have seen firsthand the ravages of the war on drugs on people who use drugs, particularly the most marginalized people, low income people,” Housing Works CEO Charles King said, emphasizing that Black and Latino communities had been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization.
“The reason we wanted a license was specifically to have the opportunity to ameliorate some of the harsh circumstances implicated in both the criminalization of cannabis as well as other drugs,” he later added.
King said Housing Works has an affirmative action plan to hire individuals affected by cannabis criminalization and to provide them the job training they need to break into the cannabis industry with their own businesses. Kings said the organization also plans to use proceeds from cannabis sales to help those who have been incarcerated on drug-related charges and to influence drug policy.
Sales to the public kicked off at 4:20 p.m. ET at the 750 Broadway location. Offerings are limited for now. The dispensary will offer roughly 100 different types of products from just six brands, although King said the nonprofit will have “have several dozen more brands before the end of February” as products make their way through New York’s rigorous testing system.
State Sen. Liz Kreuger, who sponsored New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act appeared at a morning press conference alongside officials like OCM Chair Tremaine Wright and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine to reflect on the many years of work that preceded the moment.
“This is so critically important because it's not about whether you're going to use it or not. It's about whether people who want to can do so without facing a criminal record, and it's about opportunities for new entrepreneurs, who may have been in the business illegally for decades,” said Kreuger. “And we're gonna get tax revenue … This is a win, win, win.”
Dispensaries like Housing Works face a tough battle against a slew of unlicensed and illegal operators that popped up in New York City in the aftermath of legalization. Illegal shops operate without regard to rigorous testing requirements or taxes and fees, giving them a significant cost advantage. Many advocates have raised concerns that the illicit market could undercut legal operators, entrenching a stubborn gray market and making it difficult for licensed operators to compete. The legal cannabis industry’s struggles in California have served as a cautionary tale.
But Alexander said that the Office of Cannabis Management is taking steps to protect new operators, starting with sending cease and desist letters to educate unlicensed shops about the possible consequences of their actions. Alexander said regulators have escalated their approach to seizing products.
“Working with our partners in the New City Sheriff's Office, local law enforcement agencies across the state, we've seized millions of dollars of cannabis so we're going to continue to do so,” Alexander said. That's gonna be our priority …making sure that we don't have this untested product on the streets and people really being confused by storefronts opening as if they are regulated businesses.”
With just one cannabis dispensary up and operating, it will likely take time for New York state’s legal cannabis industry to realize its full potential. King declined to share projections of how much revenue Housing Works’ dispensary might pull in in its first few days of sales, but seemed optimistic.
“Between the West Village, the East Village, we have NYU, we have Pratt, tourists can come by here easily, so we think we're going to ring up a lot of sales here,” King said.