New York opens first legal weed shop

Upwards of one year after New York made marijuana legal, the first licensed marijuana shop in the state finally opened its doors to customers on Thursday, Reuters reported. This came despite delays in creating the legal weed market to help those who had previously been detained for marijuana-related offenses.

Housing Works, a nonprofit that addresses AIDS and homelessness, founded the dispensary in New York City’s East Village. The non-profit was one of the initial 36 organizations or people to whom the state granted a marijuana retail license last month.

“We’re prioritizing repairing harm, harm that’s been done even by the state’s own policies,” said the New York State Office of Cannabis Management’s inaugural executive director Chris Alexander, adding that the disproportionate incarceration for drug possession of Black and Latino individuals is by no accident.

In order to give business owners with prior marijuana-related arrests or convictions an advantage over corporate retailers in the lucrative market, New York lawmakers mandated that when marijuana was legalized in March 2021, it could only be sold by licensed distributors and retailers to adults over the age of 21.

Additionally, the first licenses would be given to these business owners. The only marijuana that can be sold in stores is that which was grown and processed by licensed New York growers.

New York initially stated that it will provide ready-to-open storefronts and business loans for the initial licensees and that non-profit organizations that help individuals who have been jailed, like Housing Works, may qualify for certain licenses. But it’s taken longer than intended to complete.

In the meantime, a gray market has grown, with unlicensed merchants selling weed illegally out of shops and slickly branded trucks all around New York City.

Unlicensed stores won’t be accepted, according to Democratic mayor Eric Adams. According to Alexander, the state’s director of marijuana, local and state law enforcement have been informing gray-market sellers of the licensing requirements, sending them cease-and-desist letters in response, and, more lately, confiscating goods.

Although marijuana is completely legal in 20 other states, it is still prohibited by federal law, which can make it challenging for suppliers to obtain business loans and other financial services.

Some of the marijuana used in Housing Works’ pre-rolled joints and smokable flower, which costs $20 to $30 for an eighth of an ounce (or 3.5g), was grown by Florist Farms in Cortland in upstate New York.

Marijuana sales in New York will be subject to a 13.5% tax, with the money raised going toward public housing, education, addiction treatment, and mental health services.

On Thursday, East Village’s Peggy Pliscott, a 50-year-old hairdresser, praised the opening of the dispensary.

“People can make a living,” she said. “People can buy what they need legally. Seems a win-win.”

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