Coss Marte wants you to meet your dealer - but he doesn’t just mean himself. Now known internationally as an entrepreneur, author, and advocate for the incarcerated, Marte began his cannabis career as a teenage street hustler. He quickly ascended in the space, becoming the leader of a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking operation, but was sent to prison in 2009. While incarcerated, the young man was diagnosed with critical health conditions; motivating himself toward good health through exercise informed the mission of his fitness brand, CONBODY, which he founded upon his reentry into mainstream society.
Coss Marte's CONBUD: A Cannabis Brand Revolutionizing The Justice System
Today Marte’s CONBODY, where former inmates teach fitness classes in a “prison-style bootcamp” setting, is a wild success. The next logical step for the trailblazer is bringing his revolutionary criminal justice narrative to New York’s cannabis consumers with his brand CONBUD. This spring, Marte won a New York Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license, granted only to justice-involved entrepreneurs and nonprofits, meaning his CONBUD locations will receive state support.
“I’ve been hustling cannabis forever,” the go-getter says. “It’s been a crazy journey to now that I can be out there legally without looking over my shoulder to really get involved in this business.”
What Is CONBUD's "Meet Your Dealer" Series? Coss Marte On Changing Cannabis Industry Language
One of Marte’s most anticipated features of his retail stores - two CONBUD locations will be opening this year - is the opportunity to reclaim the vernacular of the streets for the greater good. Like its sister brand, CONBUD will be staffed by formerly incarcerated individuals, and the stores will display videos detailing their personal stories. The video series, called “Meet Your Dealer,” is produced by Second Chance Studios, a nonprofit that Marte co-founded in 2020 to train former inmate “fellows” in digital media.
“I want to change the language,” the innovator explains. “Everyone calls [dispensary employees] budtenders, which sounds like a word created in California. I want to call them something else. The ‘Meet Your Dealer’ series is [now] on my website. I want to share their stories and their journey in cannabis and how they’ve been affected [by criminalization], and really put that out there. A lot of people on the team are willing to be open and they’re okay with sharing.”
He’s also ready to change the lives of new hires. “A few of my staff members who already work in the gym will be working part-time at the dispensaries,” he affirms, “and then I have more people lined up. I’ve been collecting tons of resumes, probably got a hundred already, of formerly incarcerated individuals who want to work with us.”
Marte, who dedicates himself to forging global and holistic pathways to improve society, hopes to someday combine a CONBODY gym and CONBUD dispensary into one location. It’s a natural match, as many consumers already love pairing cannabis with their workouts. “We’re allowed to host events with the CAURD license… and do pop-ups,” he remarks. “I’m not trying to build a whole lounge, but if I could do events where I have a cannabis party or cannabis workout-after-your-workout, we could have a recovery session with smoking or using topicals or stuff like that. Whether I’m going to cohabitate [the brands] like that just yet, I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s allowed in the regulations, but it would be cool.”
Looking Forward: Coss Marte On The New York CAURD Coalition
As Marte goes deeper into building out CONBUD, he has also stepped up in a major way to represent New York’s dispensary owners, recently co-founding the New York CAURD Coalition with Britni and Jayson Tantalo of Flower City Hydroponics. The organization hopes to be a force in the push for social equity.
“There’s about 100 members in the coalition now,” Marte notes. “Some people just got their licenses. But it’s been incredible to see people unite all over the state… I want it to be a good industry with good intentions. Obviously people want to make money, but beyond that narrative of generational wealth, we want a way to share information and build great vibes. If we work together, we could have more unity, more culture, more wealth for everyone. That’s what cannabis is all about.
What's Next For Coss Marte And CONBUD?
Marte is excited to welcome New Yorkers to the grand opening of his first CONBUD location on Labor Day. He and the team are in the process of readying their site on the Lower East Side, a cornerstone building at 85 Delancey Street. Showing Honeysuckle some unofficial concept artwork, he mentions that the signage will be slightly different in its final form, but the mission behind it will be more passionately fueled than ever.
His other great vision is to see the cannabis industry become an example to other sectors, demonstrating the viability of formerly incarcerated staff. “That’s what I’m doing with our fitness business,” he observes. “We’re training individuals. We have a pathway for them to come and get into that field if they want to. But why not open it to multiple industries. That’s what I hope to advocate for and nobody else is doing that. Nobody’s thinking about individuals while they’re in the system. A lot of folks think they’re just forgotten people. I’ve met the smartest, most incredible people while I was incarcerated. There’s so much untapped talent and I don’t want to forget about them.”
A version of this article was originally published in Honeysuckle's 16th print edition. Click here to get your copy now!
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Featured image: Coss Marte (center), Syretta Wright (left), and Junior Martinez (right) in their CONBUD apparel (C) CONBUD