New York managed to log its first adult-use sale before the year ended. Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), was the first customer at the Housing Works non-profit dispensary. The OCM executives had been adamant that sales would begin in 2022 despite barely having approved rules and regulations. The location was a former Gap retail store in lower Manhattan near Astor Place.
New York State Senator Liz Krueger has been at the forefront of the legalization effort in the state even though she quickly admits that she is not a cannabis consumer herself. She spoke at the dispensary opening and reminded the audience that her constituents were mostly allowed to consume illegal cannabis. While black and brown New Yorks were often arrested and incarcerated for cannabis use and possession, She also noted that she was happy that the first sales would benefit the group that had paid the highest price for cannabis consumption. Krueger mentioned that the state will be happy to get the tax revenue, but stated that the state didn’t want to overtax the product, however, she didn’t give any details as to how that would be accomplished.
Charles King, was one of the co-founders of Housing Works, which was founded in 1990. The charity worked to find housing for people with drug problems and didn’t pass judgment on people’s drug use. Housing Works also created a job program for people with AIDS. It operates a needle exchange program as well. “We have seen firsthand the ravages of the war on drugs on people who use drugs, particularly the most marginalized people – low-income people. It’s no accident that disproportionately people who were incarcerated for the sale of drugs were people who are black, Latino, or Latina.” He also reminded the audience that AIDS patients were early advocates for the use of medical cannabis.
He said that one of the reasons his group wanted a license was to remedy this situation. He said his group will work to create cannabis jobs for those affected by the war on drugs as well as help them get their own licenses. King also noted that several thousand had RSVP’d to buy cannabis later in the afternoon when sales to the public begin at 4:20 pm. He also said that the dispensary had plenty of product available to complete those sales.
Alexander seemed emotionally overwhelmed as he began to thank various people on his staff. He held back tears as he took in the weight of the moment. “Legalization for us has never been about just freeing the plant. We’re prioritizing repairing harm.”
Shunning Corporate Cannabis
Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President noted that while many states before New York had legalized adult-use cannabis, New York was the first to build equity in the DNA of the program. “Every single state that did this before paid lip service to this idea. They had the rhetoric of equity but when the program got running in the end major corporate players dominated. We cannot let that happen in New York. We’re not going to let this happen in New York because of the leaders who are here. It’s extremely important that the first dispensary is not a major corporate operator. It is run by a wonderful non-profit.” Levine did note that the illicit market is in existence, but he pointed out that the products sold in the Housing Works dispensary came from marginalized groups and that the jobs would be well-paying union jobs.
King did acknowledge the illicit operations would have cheaper prices but stressed that the legal dispensaries would be selling tested products and would not sell to minors. In addition, the legal dispensaries would be paying taxes that would benefit the state and its residents.