History has been made in New York City yet again, with the opening of Smacked Village, the second adult-use cannabis dispensary to open in the Empire State. The business is run by a justice-involved licensee, Roland Conner, marking the first time that someone harmed by the criminalization of the War on Drugs has become a New York dispensary owner.
New York's Office of Cannabis Management Celebrates Smacked Village Opening With Owner Roland Conner
On Monday January 23rd, Conner and the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) held a press conference to celebrate before the store’s official grand opening on Tuesday January 24th. OCM’s Executive Director Chris Alexander, Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon, and Cannabis Control Board (CCB) member Reuben McDaniel III took the stage to welcome members of the media to Smacked’s West Village location on 144 Bleecker Street between Thompson and LaGuardia Place.
“This is special, absolutely,” Alexander intoned at the proceedings, congratulating Conner and his family. “This is an immense opportunity, one that once we’ve met, we take very seriously. It’s not just about you, but all of those coming after you.”
Smacked Village, Social Equity and New York's CAURD Cannabis Licenses
Smacked is one of the entities to emerge from New York’s inaugural round of Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses, given solely to individuals with prior cannabis-related convictions or nonprofit organizations. Of the 36 licenses awarded this past November, 28 went to justice-involved entrepreneurs and the remaining 8 to nonprofits. Housing Works Cannabis Co, owned by longtime nonprofit Housing Works, was the first CAURD business to open, launching on December 29th to a fanfare of government figures, press coverage, celebrity appearances and a line of nearly 7000 customers that wound around the entire block. Just a mile away from its fellow licensee, Smacked expects a similar volume of visitors for the premiere operating day.
“What was so special about this process [is that] we’ve seen a community of lawyers and advocates,” Alexander continued. “Shout-out to the Bronx Cannabis Hub, shout-out to the Council and Community Board… Let’s take a moment to recognize that this is a herculean effort, but [we’re] setting a new model… We’re really excited to see all those businesses thrive and grow.”
His thoughts were echoed by NYC Councilmember Christopher Marte, who represents District 1 where Smacked operates. Marte recalled the harms that cannabis prohibition did to the city’s residents, and the new hope that legalization is bringing: “For decades, throughout New York City, kids like me were scared. Scared of their own communities, scared of their own loved ones, because we didn’t want to go down that path. And so I am so honored to have the first social equity establishment in my district, because it shows there is a way.”
“New York is doing something amazing,” Conner himself acknowledged. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to open a business with my wife and son at my side and build generational wealth, right here in New York City.”
Support for New York's Cannabis Social Equity And CAURD Programs
The store that people can visit now is a pop-up version of the full business. Customers can enjoy the current iteration until February 20th, at which point Smacked will close so that the complete buildout can be finished.
As part of the structure of the CAURD program, location scouting, acquisition and design of the dispensary was done through the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY). Additional support came from the Bronx Cannabis Hub and Social Impact Equity Ventures, the private fund established by NBA player-turned-cannabis entrepreneur Chris Webber and business partner Lavetta Willis to oversee the disbursement of the OCM’s $200 million for social equity applicants. CCB’s Reuben McDaniel, also the President of DASNY, noted that he and Axel Bernabe, OCM’s Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Director, developed the idea for a public-private fund before the department had even been staffed.
“This has really been a community effort,” McDaniel remarked about the CAURD process. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about social equity in New York and how we can make that different from social equity in other states… We have stood by social equity applicants as priority, but there’s a lot more coming after them.”
Both Alexander and McDaniel declared that OCM and CCB would be announcing more CAURD license winners soon.
Which Cannabis Brands Can You Find At Smacked Village?
In the meantime, visitors to Smacked can purchase cannabis products from New York-based brands, most of them women and BIPOC-owned. On the shelves consumers will find choice selections from Ayrloom, Flowerhouse, House of Puff, Lobo Cannagar, Theory Wellness, and more. The point-of-sale system is brought to the store by leading tech brand Dutchie, which was officially awarded an exclusive contract with DASNY to provide all POS and technology services to social equity businesses in New York State.
Commercial design and installation company Temeka Group is working with DASNY and the OCM to build out all social equity retail dispensaries. Temeka founder and President Mike Wilson explained that the goal with launching Smacked as a pop-up first is to acclimate Conner and his team in the running of a regulated store.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Wilson commented. “So once we get that going, we can actually start a teardown, reopen a permanent store, but it actually gets them exposed to the elements of how to run a store… At the end of the day, there’s not a playbook for this. In other states, when they’ve done social equity and stuff, they’ve given a piece of paper; there’s no money behind it. So these pieces of paper just sit around not doing anything. For what the state’s done, this is a big lift and I applaud them.”
Chris Webber Of Social Impact Equity Ventures On Smacked Village
“Roland has done a great job,” Chris Webber enthused in an interview with Green Market Report. “We’re excited about not only his dispensary and his business, but also how his being here will transcend the walls of his business and affect his community… I’m so proud that he stayed patient, he persevered, he worked hard, and now he has an opportunity with this dispensary.”
Webber, Willis, and the Conner family, along with several cannabis industry VIPs and business associates of the Social Impact Equity Ventures fund, continued to honor Smacked's opening after the ceremonies at a post-event luncheon at the nearby Carroll Place. The reception was sponsored by the Prince Lobel Tye LLP law firm and Marcum LLP, one of the nation's leading accounting firms.
Smacked Village Owner Roland Conner Talks Legacy To Legal Transition
Conner, who will be running the dispensary with his wife Patricia and their son Darius, was previously involved in the legacy cannabis space. He’s thrilled to be forging a path for social equity, but also is aware of competition from the over 1400 greymarket stores in New York City. Talking to the press, Conner expressed a wish to move beyond the “justice-involved” label and encouraged all people working in legacy and greymarket arenas to find some way to legal status.
“Realize I’m a person, I’m an entrepreneur,” Conner commented, “and we are people at the end of the day. If I was sitting on a bus, I’m a passenger. But when I get off that bus, I’m a citizen. And so I went through a situation where, when I was in jail, I became a convict. But when I came home, I’m no longer that. So I really don’t like the press using that as a term. I went through that, and I served my time, and now - I’m here now. I’m just happy to be here and I think everybody deserves a chance. You do your time, you come home, and you should get a job, and people should not hold that against you, because that’s one of the biggest things that they have to fix.
My opinion on the unlicensed operators? Listen, I come from that. And so my opinion is that at the end of the day that they should be supported, they should not be stamped out, and they should give them the opportunity to make the transition from [legacy] to legal. They should be supported in doing that.”
Smacked Village is now open at 144 Bleecker Street in New York City. Follow @smackedvillage for more information.