It was the day so many had waited for. Marijuana for adult - not just medical - use went on sale at the first store in New York since the state legalized it in 2021. It took 20 months to make this happen.
A nonprofit Housing Works Cannabis Co. now has the status of being that first store, located on a heavily trafficked corner at 8 St. and Broadway in Greenwich Village. The 4,400 square foot storefront used to house The GAP. How times have changed.
"Today marks a major milestone in our efforts to create the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation. The opening of the first legal dispensary in our state right here in New York City is more than just a promising step for this budding industry - it represents a new chapter for those most harmed by the failed policies of the past. The legal cannabis market has the potential to be a major boon to New York's economic recovery - creating new jobs, building wealth in historically underserved communities, and increasing state and local tax revenue. At the same time, we will continue our efforts to educate unlicensed operators about the law and hold bad actors accountable. We are proud to celebrate this significant moment with Housing Works, lawmakers and the advocates who made this day possible."
Media had early access on Dec. 29 as the public lined up for the 4:20 pm doors. Flower prices were reasonable, with $40 eighths from Back Home Cannabis, $55 eighths from Florist Farms and $130 halfs (smalls) from Lobo Cannagar. Prerolls ranged from $18 (for one) to $50 (seven minis). Gummies from Florist Farms and Aryloom cost $30-$35. Vape pens with oil carts fetched $45-$95. Only cash was accepted.
Cannabis NYC founding director Dasheeda Dawson worked the room, moving from one group of happy customers to celebrities like Fab 5 Freddy. "I love seeing and being able to smell the bud, so you can tell it's a good product," she said earlier in the day.
Servers came by with munchies like popcorn, cheese sticks and carbonated drinks. Sampling newly-purchased cannabis products inside the cavernous store was not allowed, but all it took was to step outside for a puff. Perhaps someday Housing Works will offer a smokers' lounge.
The elephant in the room was the explosion of gray-market stores across the city's five boroughs selling marked-down products for less than half of what was being charged in the newly minted legal dispensary in the heart of the Village. You only needed to walk a block or two in any direction to find the unregulated competition, which does not test products before they're sold.
The Gorilla Glue package reads: 50/50 hybrid, 3.5g, THC 21.5% 709.38 mg/serving, CBD 0%, Back Home Farm, LLC, High Falls, NY, naturally grown in the Hudson Valley. There are several warnings, including: "Cannabis can be addictive"; "Keep out of reach of children"; "Do not use if pregnant or nursing"; and "Smoking or vaping is dangerous to your health."
Licensed stores will start opening in large numbers in New York State in 2023 and presumably state and city agencies will continue to raid unregulated stores and confiscate products so legal stores can succeed. Otherwise, the nascent industry may be swimming against tide for years.
Office of Cannabis Management executive director Chris Alexander recently commented:
"This is definitely an uphill battle now as we take on this really bad proliferation of these illegal shops... There's always some proliferation post legalization... It's been particularly bad here."
But at least for one day at Housing Works Cannabis, everyone was happy and proud of the progress made, considering that New York City was known as the "marijuana arrest capital of the world" just 11 years ago when 50,000 pot arrests happened annually. Now that it's legal to buy means we've come a long way.