NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s first legal recreational marijuana dispensary began its first sales Thursday, opening what is expected to be one of the nation’s most lucrative markets for cannabis — underpinned by dozens of unlicensed shops that have been operating in open for years.
The long-awaited opening of the first state-sanctioned dispensary, which is operated by the nonprofit Housing Works, paves the way for a string of openings expected in the coming months in New York. The state legalized the recreational use of marijuana in March 2021.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be the first, and we hope to set a model that other people will have to follow,” said Charles King, chief executive of Housing Works, a minority-controlled social services agency that serves people with HIV and AIDS, as well as those who are homeless and formerly incarcerated.
The lower Manhattan shop is the first of 36 recently licensed dispensaries to open, with an additional 139 licenses yet to be issued by the state Office of Cannabis Management and 900 applicants still awaiting word. Among the first round of licensees were eight non-profit organizations that included Housing Works.
The Cannabis Showcase adjoins New York University’s sprawling urban campus.
“This place is a perfect place. We’re between the West Village, the East Village,” King said at a press conference Thursday morning. “Tourists can come here easily. So we think we will bring a lot of sales here.”
In front of a group of cameras, Chris Alexander, the inaugural executive director of the state’s cannabis office, made his first purchase: watermelon-flavored gum and a can of marijuana flowers.
“It’s been a lot of work that’s gone into getting us to this point,” Alexander said. “We have a lot more work to do, a lot more stores to open.”
Housing Works officials said the dispensary has already received more than 2,000 reservations to make purchases.
Ben Gilbert, 38, a media specialist, smoked a marijuana cigarette outside the new retail outlet and said he was looking forward to the store’s official opening at 4.20pm on Thursday.
“As a consumer, I’m happy to finally go to a store and buy cannabis grown in New York,” he said.
New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera also bought gum and said she no longer has to travel out of state for legal cannabis. She predicted that more openings will be a boon to the state and the city’s economy.
“We’re the financial center of the world, the biggest city on earth, and I think people will now come here to enjoy all kinds of things,” she said.
New York joined nearly two dozen other states in the US to legalize recreational marijuana. But unlike many other states, New York has reserved the first round of retail licenses for nonprofits, as well as applicants with marijuana convictions and their relatives — a recognition of the inequities produced by the country’s war on drugs. .
It also planned a $200 million public-private fund to help applicants of what they called “social equity.”
“We’ve seen firsthand the ravages of the war on drugs, on people who use drugs, especially the most marginalized people, the low-income people,” King said.
King said his nonprofit is hiring people who have been convicted of marijuana. Housing Works pursued the license because they wanted “an opportunity to ameliorate some of the difficult circumstances involved in both the criminalization of cannabis and other drugs,” he said.
“Today marks a major milestone in our efforts to create the nation’s fairest cannabis industry,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “The opening of our state’s first legal dispensary right here in New York City is more than just a promising step for this burgeoning industry — it represents a new chapter for those most harmed by the failed policies of past.”
Governor Kathy Hochul called the first legal sale of adult-use cannabis “a milestone in New York’s cannabis industry.”