New York officials are planning to open recreational marijuana retail stores before the end of the year.
This month, Mayor Eric Adams named Dasheeda Dawson as the founding director of the Cannabis NYC Initiative, which launched in August under the city’s department of small business services.
Dawson is a global cannabis advocate and a best-selling author in the cannabis industry. She sat down with WNYC’s Tiffany Hanssen to discuss her role and how the city plans on opening up the marijuana industry equitably and how to incentivize people to move into the legal market.
This transcript of their discussion below was aired Tuesday on WNYC’s All Things Considered and has been lightly edited for clarity:
Tiffany Hanssen: Can you explain your role as head of Cannabis NYC? What exactly do you do and what are your main goals?
Dasheeda Dawson: I'm really excited to be coming back to my hometown (I’m originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.) to lead the cannabis industry for the city of New York. At the heart of our approach in the emerging industry is equity, and to help lead the industry in terms of community outreach and education, ensuring that there are business services available to developing entrepreneurs who want to be licensed, as well as ancillary businesses.
More than anything else, I think destigmatizing and demystifying something that has been unregulated for decades and is now an opportunity to transition into the legal industry.
TH: The licenses are going to be reserved for people with past marijuana convictions or their family members, right?
DD: There are going to be a number of licenses that are available, so you must be talking about the most recent one that the New York State Office of Cannabis Management just released. That's the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary license or CAURD license.
Those licenses are specifically for what we've been calling “justice impacted individuals.” These are people who have previously received a conviction in New York State prior to legalization (March 31, 2021). We want to make sure the industry is open to those who were most harmed from prohibition.
TH: So how does Cannabis NYC plan to support that group of licenses specifically?
DD: We were able to help more than 150 individuals determine their eligibility and then more than 30 submit applications.
We are pipeline facilitators. The state is the regulatory body, but our goal is to really utilize the services that already exist within New York City’s Small Business Services Department, curate them specifically for entrepreneurs, and get them prepared for licensing opportunities that will continue to happen as the market develops.
TH: Tell me more about the ways the city can ensure that this new legal cannabis industry is equitable.
DD: The first is giving a lot of accountability to the previously existing unregulated market. We know that there is a supply and demand, and some people estimate there is nearly $4 billion penetrating through the unregulated market.
These people are primarily those who are coming from communities that have been most impacted when cannabis was prohibited, so we want to make sure that we are facilitating that transition of this legacy market into this legal market.
Equity from the vision of New York City really starts with creating jobs and wealth generation for those individuals who have been really negatively impacted from criminalization over the last four or five decades.
TH: How do you plan to incentivize those folks who are in the current underground legacy markets to transition to this legal market? Is there an incentive program in place?
DD: I think really calling it out and acknowledging it as an actual economy. Often that economy is ignored - we almost pretend it doesn't exist because no one wants to be associated with it.
We're also empowering people to come out of the shadows and share what their experiences have been, not just as operators but also consumers because again, without demand, there is no supply. Cannabis NYC will be focused on educating consumers on harm reduction, understanding that cannabis is medicine, and growing the cannabis competency among the communities that have been adversely affected.
This is a global industry - a lot of countries have legalized and done a lot of research around cannabis, and we want to make sure that Cannabis NYC is the hub for business, science, and cultural excellence in the industry.
TH: Since legalization, some of that market has come out of the shadows already. I mean, you can go pretty much to any bodega at this point and maybe find some cannabis. Do you think the city is going to crack down on those folks who are selling cannabis without a license at some point?
DD: From our perspective, a lot of what we are seeing pop up in terms of smoke shops and/or bodegas aren’t necessarily what we've been seeing in the last 40 or 50 years of the community legacy industry that we know. And so, the New York Office of Cannabis Management has a plan in place, and at our end, we will be working on facilitation.
Oftentimes there are people who are operating and don't know that there's an existing program, and so aggressive and five borough community outreach is the initial plan out the gate for Cannabis NYC to ensure that people know that we have proper programming. If they want to start a licensed cannabis business, we can help them do it the right way.