Just in time to close out Women’s History Month, entrepreneur Extasy James will make history as the first woman to own an adult-use cannabis dispensary in New York. James’s shop Good Grades will open in Jamaica, Queens on Thursday, March 30th, the inaugural state-licensed store in the borough and the sixth such retailer in the state overall.
Good Grades: New York's First Woman-Owned Cannabis Dispensary
Governor Kathy Hochul announced the opening of James’s business in a statement on Monday. “"With the opening of Good Grades in Queens, we're continuing to build on our progress to create a safe, regulated cannabis industry in New York," she said. "New York is working to support entrepreneurs and ensure that consumers can purchase safe, legal products while supporting their communities."
Good Grades is part of the state’s Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license program, which prioritizes cannabis licenses for individuals who have previously been impacted by criminalization and the War on Drugs. James will be operating the store in partnership with her cousin, Michael James Jr., an attorney who focuses on serving clients with a core value of advocating for the minority business community. Located at 162-03 Jamaica Avenue, the retailer will launch first as a “pop-up” before building out the complete shop, a similar model to how other CAURD dispensaries such as Smacked Village and Union Square Travel Agency in Manhattan have opened. The public opening will start at 2PM EST on March 30th, featuring music by DJs G$Money and Joe Young until 8PM.
Good Grades' Pop-Up Opening and New York's Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) License Program
According to the Governor’s Office and New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), the pop-up program provides retail licensees the opportunity to open on a short-term basis to fast-track sales, allows training opportunities for staff members, and begins generating capital for the businesses. After a short period of being open as a pop-up, Good Grades will close temporarily to finish final construction and then reopen on a long-term basis.
Like other CAURD licensees, Good Grades is supported by the New York State Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, a limited public-private partnership designed to assist justice-involved entrepreneurs with the acquisition, design, and buildout of their retail spaces. Working with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), the Fund also supported the previous pop-ups. That model is said to benefit all businesses involved in the cannabis supply chain, including farmers who have cannabis ready for distribution, processors who are making cannabis into other types of products, and distributors and retail operators who work to provide consumers with access to safe products they can trust. As per the Governor’s statement, “The dispensary opening helps advance New York's goals of equity in cannabis licensing that prioritizes providing licenses to justice-involved individuals, who are people with a cannabis conviction or a close relative of someone with one.”
Lavetta Willis, General Principal of the Fund’s general partner, Social Equity Impact Ventures LLC, affirmed her enthusiasm for the program helping a female entrepreneur to reach such an important milestone. "As a women business owner, I am honored to support another woman's success in this industry. Black women in cannabis are underserved and underrepresented, and we are taking action to change that. As a team, we are breaking down barriers and creating more opportunities for Black and brown business owners by providing funding, training, and support. I want to thank Governor Hochul for leading us in this disruptive direction to change how social equity programs are executed today."
What Are Good Grades' Owners Saying About Their Opening in Queens?
For her part, owner Extasy James can’t wait to bring community members through her doors. "I am thrilled to be opening the doors of Good Grades, the very first dispensary in Queens, New York,” she commented. “We are incredibly passionate about providing greater access to cannabis and breaking down the barriers that prevent so many people, especially those from marginalized communities, from experiencing the benefits of this amazing plant. We understand firsthand the stigma that has been attached to cannabis for far too long, and we are eager to join the thriving cannabis community to help change that. Our dispensary is a welcoming and inclusive space where anyone can come to learn, explore, and find the products that are best suited to their unique needs."
Co-owner Michael James Jr. noted, "Jamaica, Queens is now a landmark in the cannabis industry, as the first dispensary in Queens to open its doors. I could not be more excited about the opportunity and great responsibility to bring this to our hometown for the first time. This new endeavor is a significant milestone for our family, hometown, and women in New York. In addition to Governor Hochul, DASNY, the Cannabis Control Board, OCM, and Fund, we would also like to thank the numerous support teams that have helped us reach this milestone."
Bringing Legal Cannabis To Queens: Transforming The World's Borough
Nicknamed “The World’s Borough” for its status as the most diverse county in the United States, Queens presents a fantastic microcosm of the cannabis community at large. With approximately 47 percent of the borough’s residents having been born in other countries, the coexistence of different languages and traditions within the same space has made for a thriving communal culture of innovation, education, and determination. Queens has also been the site of much disproportionate cannabis criminalization over the years; a study published by the Mayor’s Task Force on Marijuana in 2018 showed that people of color made up 71 and 80 percent of cannabis-related arrests in the Flushing and Forest Hills neighborhoods respectively, despite Black and Latinx citizens accounting for only 20 percent of the population in those areas.
The OCM’s Executive Director Chris Alexander, a Queens native, highly anticipates the positive impact of bringing the legal cannabis industry to his home borough, a crucial step in the process of repairing the damage from prohibition. He remarked, "We are continuing to deliver on the goals of our state's Cannabis Law to build an equitable industry that helps revitalize communities hit hardest by the over-policing of cannabis prohibition. With this first woman-owned dispensary opening in Queens, we are showing the world that we can start this market on the right foot with equity leading the way."
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. agreed that the launch of Good Grades will have a greater effect on the overall community. He declared, "Societal shifts don't come quickly or easily, but this milestone opening of Queens' first licensed cannabis dispensary is nothing short of transformational for our borough. What was once a tool used to target communities of color is finally a crucial, and legal, piece of our economic puzzle that will create jobs, wealth and opportunity in those same communities. Congratulations to Good Grades and entrepreneur Michael James Jr. on making history — I look forward to our work together to ensure this emerging sector of our economy is rooted in equity and empowerment."
Good Grades will open to the public on Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 2PM EST at 162-03 Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica, Queens. For more information, follow @goodgradesnyc on Instagram.
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Featured image: Courtesy of Wikileaf