When cannabis retail store Smacked Village opens its doors to the public Tuesday morning, it will be the Empire State’s second, licensed, adult-use cannabis retail store. But it also claims a lot of firsts.
Smacked Village will be the first individual-owned shop after nonprofit Housing Works opened its dispensary in late December. It’s also the first Black-owned shop, and, crucially, the first shop owned by an individual harmed by punitive cannabis laws.
“It's really overwhelming. It's a little scary. But at the same time, I got my family here, I got my wife here with me, and I just feel great,” owner Roland Conner told Cheddar News.
Conner will be the first of a cohort of Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licensees to open to the public. In order to qualify for the coveted CAURD licenses, which get first crack at New York’s adult-use market, applicants had to have relevant business ownership experience and prove they are “justice-involved,” meaning they were convicted of a marijuana-related offense in New York state prior to March 31, 2021 or have a parent, spouse, child, dependent, or legal guardian who was convicted in that timeframe.
Conner has 15 years of experience owning and operating property management businesses, and currently runs transitional housing for men in the Bronx. He was reluctant to dwell on the past when he was “arrested a couple of times for marijuana charges,” instead focusing on the future for himself and his family. He was joined at a Monday press conference by his wife, Patricia Conner, and son, Darius Conner.
“I'm excited for them — him and my son — and to see that he took something that he used to do in a negative way, and now he's passing the torch over to my son in a positive way,” Patricia Conner said.
“We have a granddaughter, and her children are going to go back one day and see us as the first and say, ‘That's my grandparents. That's my great grandparents.’ So for us to be pioneers in this is just big,” she added.
The Conners were joined at the press conference by New York state cannabis regulators including New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) Executive Director Chris Alexander, OCM Chief Equity Officer Damien Fagan, Dormitory Authority of State of New York (DASNY) President and CEO Reuben McDaniel, as well as basketball star-turned cannabis entrepreneur Chris Webber.
“We've got a lot more dispensaries to open. We've now established an adult-use supply chain in the state of New York, licensed over 300 people including small farmers, including Black- and minority-owned businesses, including women — and we're really excited to see all those businesses grow and thrive,” Alexander said.
The rollout of New York’s adult-use cannabis market has suffered lengthy delays and setbacks, particularly under former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But with Housing Works’ opening, regulators just made good on promises to kick off sales before the close of 2022. Two dispensaries are not nearly enough to serve New York City’s 8.5 million residents, but Fagan told Cheddar News that New York aims to open 10 to 20 additional locations about every three months with a goal of 100 locations by the end of 2023.
“We're kind of blazing a new path here. And so as we blaze that path, we get better at blazing it, because we're learning from our mistakes,” Fagan said. “And so I think it'll go slowly at first, and it'll accelerate a lot over time. And so, in the next three years, we're gonna see thousands of equity businesses.”
One side effect of the accelerated rollout is that Conner’s Bleecker St. storefront is just a pop-up for now. Conner can sell cannabis products from Smacked Village until Feb. 20, followed by a temporary closure of a few weeks during final construction. Other initial licensees, supported by the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, can expect the same arrangement as they get up and running. Alexander said he felt the pause would serve as a “great training opportunity,” rather than a disruption to business owners.
The New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund is a $200 million public-private fund, announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul, intended to support the lease and build out of dispensaries like Conner’s. But the team charged with raising about $150 million of that sum, which includes NBA hall of famer Chris Webber, has come under fire for repeated missed deadlines, among other things, according to an investigation from NY Cannabis Insider.
“I’m not a fundraiser for the fund,” Webber said when asked about the delays, adding that he’s less involved with fundraising than working with social equity programs across the country to ensure New York’s licensees have the resources they need to avoid the pitfalls of other programs.
The delays, however, didn’t dampen the mood at Smacked Village. Representatives from the cannabis brands, lining the dispensary shelves like accessories-maker House of Puff, celebrated the moment.
“[It feels] incredible, like a pinch me moment, part of history. Especially as a Puerto Rican woman, seeing my products on Roland’s shelves is — we're just grateful for the opportunity,” said House of Puff founder and CEO Kristina Lopez Adduci.
Smacked Village, located at 144 Bleecker St., will open its doors to the public on Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET.