A tin of watermelon gummies and an eighth of weed labeled “Banana Runtz” were the first products sold in New York’s first legal recreational marijuana market, which got off the ground with a single dispensary on Thursday in the East Village.
The honors went to Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, who shelled out $96 for the goods at the dispensary run by the nonprofit Housing Works at East Eighth Street and Broadway.
Alexander was among a host of local elected officials and a gaggle of media who assembled in the Housing Works Cannabis Co. store ahead of its official opening at 4:20 p.m. He made the purchase hours before doors opened to the public.
Regular customers started lining up around 12:30 p.m., and by the time the store opened, the line wrapped around the block and extended past the Astor Place Starbucks.
Kenneth Woodin, a 33-year-old Houston native who now lives in Ocean Hill, was the first member of the public to patronize the store.
“I just want to be a part of history with my people, people who smoke, people who are down,” said Woodin. He said he has friends who have been incarcerated on marijuana charges.
“Here, I get to be free, I get to be a part of freedom,” he said.
The store was rapidly assembled so it could open before the end of the year, allowing Gov. Kathy Hochul to fulfill her promise of opening the state's first dispensary before 2023. Its decor included colorful posters with the slogan, “make love, not drug war.”
For its opening, the shop also had a DJ, (uninfused) snacks made by a company seeking a marijuana processing license, and a table offering “dab-ucation” on marijuana concentrates and different ways to consume them.
The dispensary is the first to open among three-dozen businesses granted licenses to sell weed recreationally by the state in November. It comes 21 months after New York state legalized marijuana for adult use in March 2021, with an eye toward correcting a long-standing social and criminal justice wrong.
According to ACLU research, marijuana use is roughly equal among Black and white people, but Black people have been nearly four times as likely to be arrested for weed possession. With Thursday’s opening, New York also has a venue for legal recreational weed sales as well.
“It’s not lost how really important this moment is,” said Sasha Nutgent, the retail sales manager at the new store. “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m excited.”
Housing Works Cannabis Co. offers about 100 different products, boasting a menu of bud, pet treats, pre-rolls, edibles and drinks at prices ranging from $18 to around $130 depending on the product before a 13% sales tax. (An eighth of an ounce was going for $40 to $60 and a 1-gram pre-roll was listed at $18.)
Sales are “cash only” for the time being, although Alexander said debit cards may soon be accepted. More products will also be added to the menu in the coming weeks as they make their way through state-approved labs for testing. After the initial opening – the hours are from 4:20 p.m. to 7 p.m. – the Housing Works still operate daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Customers must be 21 or older to shop.
Speaking at the dispensary this morning, Housing Works CEO Charles King sought to distance the shop from illegal competitors in the area. Countless unauthorized storefronts selling a variety of- unregulated weed products have sprung up in the 21 months since New York legalized weed use. Some are within walking distance of the Housing Works site.
“We're not selling adulterated products and we can't say the same for them,” King said. “We don't sell to minors. We're paying our taxes.”
Housing Works is also a unionized shop and the dispensary is prioritizing people with prior marijuana convictions as it builds its staff, King said.
Asked if there was enough product on hand to meet potential demand, King said, “Be assured, we have plenty of supplies so we can get you through the weekend.”
City and state officials who spoke at the store on Thursday morning highlighted the years of advocacy that went into legalizing and regulating marijuana.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat representing the East Side, who was a primary sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, emphasized that legalization is not just about regulating the products for sale, but also about ending New York’s legacy of racially biased policing of marijuana use and possession.
“This is so critically important because it's not about whether you're going to use it or not,” said Krueger, who admitted she doesn’t even like the smell of weed. “It's about whether people who want to can do so without facing a criminal record.”
This is a developing story, check for updates.