Freeing the plant: East Village shop ushers in the era of legal marijuana sales in New York

New York City’s very first legal marijuana dispensary was officially christened in the East Village on Dec. 29 with its first sale.

Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) made the first sale, buying $96 of marijuana products at 750 Broadway, a shop opened and operated by Housing Works, a non-profit that fights homelessness and HIV.

The nonprofit’s CEO, Charles King, pledged drug sales will be put back into the organization to help those in need.

“In receiving a license to open a cannabis retail dispensary, and we have formative action policy here, hiring affirmatively people who have been criminalized due to cannabis possession and sale. We intend to provide our folks with training programs to allow them to move up in the cannabis industry and even to obtain licenses on their own. And we intend to use the proceeds from, hopefully what will not just be one retail outlet, but more than one to ameliorate circumstances, or other people who have been incarcerated due to possession of drugs as well as taking on the war on drugs. We live in full decriminalization,” King said.

First purchase at marijuana shop in East Village
The First Cannabis sale is made. Photo by Dean Moses

Equality was thrusted forth as the big talking point of the day, with the formerly incarcerated and those suffering substance abuse issues joining the homeless in receiving financial support from the sales.

Still, the day was also dedicated to members of the Black and Brown community who have been disproportionately jailed over the years for possessing marijuana.

Manhattan state Senator Liz Krueger spoke at the grand opening, recalling decades of excessive arrests targeting young New Yorkers of color meanwhile in her East Side district, which she calls one of the whiter areas in the city, saw very little busts.

“I got involved after having a meeting with some people who showed me the data on how in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg, we were busting 50,000 young people of color a year. Fifty thousand young people of color just for having a couple of marijuana seeds on them or a couple of marijuana cigarettes in their pockets,” Krueger said. “I would already have been a state senator for 13 years representing the East Side, probably one of the whiter districts in New York City, and I didn’t have any of the kids in my district being busted. But I knew that they were using marijuana just like their black and brown equivalents in every other community. I knew that I had used marijuana when I was a teenager in the 70s. Nobody tried to threaten me with legal action at the time, and I just didn’t understand what the hell we were doing as a state.”

Marijuana products are placed on shelves inside the Housing Works dispensary. Photo by Dean Moses

While this Lower Manhattan dispensary is officially recognized as the city’s first legitimate marijuana business, many seedy storefronts and mobile shops have been flogging the product since it became legal.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said that the Housing Works location offers safe, vetted cannabis and is the perfect representation of the type of equity that small businesses are built upon.

He also stressed that the first dispensary is not a major corporate operation but rather a nonprofit whose revenue will support those with addiction, homeless and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. 

Council woman Carlina Rivera makes a purchase. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are making history,” Levine said proudly. “When you buy here, you know the product has been regulated, that it is safe. You are going to be buying brands that are led by New Yorkers of color and marginalized communities here in this store. You are going to be served by a workforce that is unionized. These are going to be jobs with good pay and decent benefits. This is empowerment for our community and our city.”

The Housing Works Cannabis Co., at 750 Broadway was scheduled to officially open to the public Thursday at, naturally, 4:20 p.m., then close at 7 p.m. Starting Friday, Dec. 30, the shop will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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A man films the first legal Marijuana. Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses