Housing Works is opening a cannabis dispensary next week


New Yorkers have been counting on Housing Works to find gems among its thrift store racks, but starting next week, they’ll go to Housing Works to buy pot.

The nonprofit was one of the first entities in New York State to get a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) license this November, meaning it now has permission to sell recreational cannabis. It was one of the first 36 licenses the state issued and one of eight nonprofits to receive a license.

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When it has its “very ambitious” soft open on December 29, staying true to its promise that it’d open before 2023, it’ll sell vapes, edibles, flowers, tinctures, and even pet products—all from women and BIPOC-owned farms and brands, according to Sasha Nutgent, the retail manager at Housing Works. It’ll also offer pick-up and delivery.

The products won’t be on the shelves at any existing Housing Works location but will be available at a whole new 6,000-square-foot store called Housing Works Cannabis Co at 750 Broadway at Astor Place—a deal brokered by Katz & Associates.

“When we are fully launched, we plan to have some educational things going on in the basement of our dispensary and then eventually when we get the right to consume in-store, we’ll have a smoke-and-paint and things like that,” Nutgent tells us. “We really are like a very entrepreneurial business. I think this is just another way to feed into that … we’re taking people who are marginalized and bringing them into the cannabis industry, teaching them a lot of things and sparking interest to maybe open their own dispensaries in the future.”

That’s what the Office of Cannabis Management wanted to see when considering all 600 dispensary applications it received this year, according to OCM’s Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon. The agency evaluated applicants based on their past contributions to their respective communities and is focusing on giving CUARD licenses out to nonprofits and social justice-involved folks who have past arrests relating to marijuana first.

750 Broadway Housing Works Cannabis Co
Photograph: courtesy of Wikimedia/Beyond My Ken

“Have they served in leadership? Volunteered in their community? Assisted in the economic development or created opportunities in their community?” Fagon says. “We’re looking for established community leaders or those who have a strong track record of creating opportunities for others in their communities.”

Housing Works says it’ll put the generated revenue back into the community that it serves. Since 1990, it has been an advocate for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and has provided lifesaving services and has done that through entrepreneurial businesses, including its 10 thrift stores and bookstore/cafe in Soho. The dispensary will be its 12th shop in NYC.

By giving nonprofits like Housing Works a license to dispense recreational marijuana before bigger companies and corporations, it gives the small guys and the communities they represent a chance in a new industry, according to OCM.

“In a lot of other states, they give licenses to multimillion dollar companies before they license to special equity communities who have never run a business before, and nine times out of 10, they fail in the operation of their license and are eventually bought or taken over by larger operator,” Fagon says. “We know individuals from these communities who have great experiences in running businesses … we were pleased to prove [those who are skeptical] wrong. They are going to be successful in running their businesses and will be inspirations to their communities.”

That’s certainly the plan at Housing Works.

“We want people to come to the dispensary to learn about cannabis if they’re new and if they’re an enthusiast, to find their favorite,” Nutgent says. “Even though it’s going to generate a lot of money, it’s going to go back to our community and we just want people to understand that Housing Works is sticking to our mission even though we’re venturing into cannabis.”



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