History was made on December 29, 2022 as New York’s first adult-use cannabis dispensary opened for business. Housing Works Cannabis Co, owned and operated by the long-running nonprofit Housing Works, welcomed a crowd of seemingly thousands on its inaugural day. The launch kicked off with a press conference including government officials, state regulators, and industry celebrities, while the line of consumers waiting to get in the doors in the afternoon swelled and expanded around the block.
Check out highlights from the opening of Housing Works Cannabis Co:
What Is Housing Works Cannabis Co?
The new dispensary at 750 Broadway (Broadway and Eighth Street) is the latest addition to Housing Works’ community business initiatives. Founded in 1990, the organization is known for its multitiered advocacy, focused on providing housing, healthcare and other resources for people living with HIV and AIDS. Over its years of operation, Housing Works has launched numerous thrift shops and an iconic Soho bookstore. Housing Works Cannabis Co continues the mission of educating the community and offering a wide range of resources and opportunities, including job training and the possibility to help beginning entrepreneurs someday win their own cannabis licenses.
Who Spoke at Housing Works Cannabis Co's Opening?
Housing Works Co-Founder Charles King
At the opening press conference, Housing Works co-founder Charles King recounted the organization’s history with New York City, stating, “We believe in people being allowed to live their lives whole.” King said that Housing Works has always advocated for cannabis legalization, fighting for solutions to repair the harm done to communities of color by the War on Drugs. He explained that the dispensary will operate on an affirmative action policy, hiring from the community that the nonprofit serves and providing education so that those interested in securing leadership positions in cannabis businesses can find the support they need.
Charles King speaks to Honeysuckle on the next steps for Housing Works Cannabis Co:
State Senator Liz Krueger
State Senator Liz Krueger of District 28 (Upper East Side), the original sponsor of the cannabis legalization bill that became the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA), was on hand to marvel at how far New York has come in just a few short years. Although she isn’t a cannabis consumer and claims she never will be, Krueger recalled that she was stunned by data showing how starkly criminalization was hitting communities of color versus their white counterparts.
“We were busting 50,000 young people of color per year just for having marijuana seeds or joints on them,” she noted. “People in my district weren’t being arrested for that.” It spurred Krueger to become a staunch legalization advocate. Looking at Housing Works Cannabis Co, she added, “For all this to come full circle is pretty damn amazing… [The legal industry gives] opportunities for new entrepreneurs… to now be legitimate businesspeople. And it will bring in tax revenue - This is a win-win-win for the state, for communities, for people and their families.”
Senator Liz Krueger gives Honeysuckle her prediction for New York's success with legal cannabis:
Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright
Tremaine Wright, Chair of New York State’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB), reminded all in attendance that “this has really been the work of many… In 2022, we are finally opening our first adult-use dispensary. We were able to get something up and running in less than a year. We have lived up to our social equity goals and we are truly committed to making sure that cannabis and reinvestment happen in New York simultaneously.”
Tremaine Wright talks to Honeysuckle about making the OCM's Q4 goals:
Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander
Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), teared up as he made his remarks to the crowd. Thanking Governor Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and countless others for their support, he seemed to touch on his advocacy roots.
“Legalization for us has never been just about freeing the plant,” Alexander asserted. “We can use this fight to uplift other voices.” He gave particular kudos to State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, “who fought tirelessly for the revenue to go where it needed to go.” In conclusion, he asked the audience to remember that “Equity is not a thing, it is the thing.”
Chris Alexander gets emotional with Honeysuckle about New York's different approach to cannabis:
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine echoed the sentiment: “New York State is not the first to legalize cannabis, but we are the first to build equity into the DNA of our program. It is extremely important that the first dispensary is not a corporate operator; it is a mission-driven, wonderful nonprofit. When you buy here, you know the product has been regulated. It is safe. You’re going to be served by a workforce that is unionized. This is empowerment for our city.
New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera
New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera of District 2, who represents the neighborhood where Housing Works Cannabis Co is located, celebrated that her home base is now the primary site for “one of the most progressive, equitable-focused industries in the world… [Today is] a historic step away from criminalization and stigma.”
Cannabis NYC Founding Director Dasheeda Dawson
Cannabis industry trailblazer Dasheeda Dawson, Founding Director of Cannabis NYC appeared with Kevin Kim, Commissioner of the City’s Department of Small Business Services. She stated that they wished to give “a resounding congratulations to Housing Works and Housing Works Cannabis Co, the first adult-use legal cannabis dispensary in the state… By supporting this legal business, our tax dollars are being reinvested into the communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition. And we are also contributing to sustainable funding to provide ongoing support of Housing Works.”
Dawson encouraged everyone to investigate cannabis as a tool for health, nutrition, career opportunities and more. “Our initial demonstration of New York’s equity-centered approach to build a thriving cannabis industry is actually bigger than a dispensary. It’s much bigger. Ultimately cannabis is a plant with agricultural, industrial, nutritional, medical and even spiritual utilities that will impact nearly every industry… As always, the work continues.”
Dasheeda Dawson explains to Honeysuckle where the revenue from NYC's cannabis businesses will go:
New York's First Legal Cannabis Sales at Housing Works Cannabis Co
After the remarks, Alexander and Rivera stepped up to make the first legal adult-use purchases of cannabis flower in New York City’s history. Their products came from Florist Farms, a sun-grown cannabis cultivator dedicated to regenerative agricultural practices. Florist Farms co-founders Karli Miller-Hornick and Allan Gandelman have been at the forefront of New York’s hemp and CBD cultivation for years, as well as being dedicated advocates for adult-use legalization. Gandelman is also founder and president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, and on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board, which helps the OCM and CCB revise industry regulations.
Allan Gandelman of Florist Farms tells Honeysuckle about being a barrier breaker for New York cannabis:
Max Buckner, Head of Sales and Education for Florist Farms and its sister brand Head & Heal, was thrilled to be present at such a groundbreaking event. “It’s a historic moment,” he enthused. “We’re proud to be part of the first batch of brands available to customers.”
Currently Housing Works Cannabis Co offers six brands and over 100 cannabis products. Their brands are heavily representative of female and BIPOC ownership in the industry, including House of Puff, Lobo Cannagar, New York Cannabis Co, Back Home Cannabis Co, and Buy Weed From Women. (You can also find quality reading material from your favorite cultural educators such as Gossamer and Honeysuckle!)
Housing Works Cannabis Co Opens to the Public
Sasha Nutgent, Retail Manager of Housing Works Cannabis Co, oversaw historic first sales to the public later in the day. By the time the doors opened to New York consumers at 4:20PM, the line ran around the block. Most people were already smoking their favorite strains as they anticipated a long wait; the appearances of various celebrities, such as hip hop icons Fab 5 Freddy and Shiest Bubz, entertained them as well.
Zach Sokol of Cash Only 420 reflects on how Housing Works Cannabis Co brings the legalization movement full-circle:
Once inside, guests found non-infused treats by Chef Ali of HiFive Edible Wonders to welcome them. Expert roller Wolf Stoner Queen awed those in attendance with her artisanal creations, while the team from vape brand Focus V set up a table for dab education. Industry leaders at the scene were too numerous to list completely, but some of those present throughout the day included legendary activist Dana Beal, Women and Weed founder and publisher Elana Frankel, community organizer and All That Jive founder Pilar DeJesus, TLBK founder Saki Fenderson, Tanya Osborne of Women Grow and The CannaDiva, High NY founder Michael Zaytsev, leading attorneys Joseph A. Bondy, Cristina Buccola, and Jeffrey Hoffman, and renowned cannabis journalist Steve Bloom, founder of CelebStoner.
Legal cannabis has finally come to the Big Apple. As we turn to a new year, we hope this is a new beginning for all of those who have been impacted by and fighting against the War on Drugs. But just as importantly is the start of a new kind of destigmatization, where the public outside the cannabis community can learn to embrace the plant rather than fear it. Going by the reactions of major news networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and Univision who showed up on the scene, that battle is nowhere near won yet. Based on the coverage of outlets like the New York Post, who shamefully insist on categorizing the people waiting in line as nothing more than “stoners,” we have much more to do in closing the gap between those “in the know of 420” and the newly canna-curious. As Dasheeda Dawson says, the work continues.
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Featured image: Chris Alexander, Executive Director of New York's Office of Cannabis Management, and NYC Council Member Carlina Rivera buy the first legal adult-use cannabis products at Housing Works Cannabis Co's opening celebration. (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture