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Regulators buy New York’s first legal weed products

Published on December 29, 2022 · Last updated January 3, 2023
Tremaine Wright, chair of New York's Cannabis Control Board, made one of the ceremonial first purchases at Housing Works in Greenwich Village. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)
Tremaine Wright, chair of New York's Cannabis Control Board, made one of the ceremonial first purchases at Housing Works in Greenwich Village. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

State officials were thrilled to take part in history as New York marks its first day of regulated adult-use sales.

New York’s first legal cannabis products weren’t sold to average customers. Chris Alexander and Tremaine Wright, the leaders of the state’s cannabis legalization efforts, made the ceremonial first purchases just after 11 a.m. on Thursday following a press conference at Housing Works, New York’s first legal adult-use weed store in Greenwich Village, NYC.

“It has been a long road for us to get here. There have been lots of pits and challenges. And a lot of people didn’t think they were going to hit the goal of quarter four for 2022, opening a store. I have to say hallelujah, we’re here.”

Tremaine Wright, Chair of New York Cannabis Control Board
Tremaine Wright, Chair of New York Cannabis Control Board (left) and NY State Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander (right) on Thursday, December 29, 2022. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

Wright purchased edible gummies while Alexander grabbed gummies and an eighth of homegrown flower from Florist Farms for just under $100 after tax. Alexander said he plans to roll up with papers later.

“Legalization for us has never been about just freeing the plant. [We] recognized the early intersectionality of this issue, the way that we could use this fight to uplift other voices. And not just significant criminal justice reform [and] access to health care, but also [to] make sure that we’re creating opportunity in a new way, that we’re prioritizing, repairing harm—harm that has been done even by the state’s own policy.”

Chris Alexander, executive director of New York’s cannabis office

Just in the nick of time

(Meg Schmidt / Leafly)
Cannabis board chair Tremaine Wright brought cash to buy the state’s first crop of legal weed from Housing Works in Manhattan. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

Optimism and relief filled the air as regulators and lawmakers celebrated a successful opening day, which took place at just one retail store location. When New York legalized adult-use cannabis in March 2021, the state promised an 18-month window until regulated adult-use weed stores opened.

Housing Works is one of eight nonprofits that received licenses to sell cannabis in New York. As such, it was the first physical location to open its doors as other licensees continue to build out their brick-and-mortar storefronts and manage delivery-only services. Housing Works currently offers six brands, including pre-rolls and flower from Lobo Cannagars and edibles and flower from Florist Farms.

Charles King, CEO of Housing Works (left) and Chris Alexander, executive director of New York’s cannabis office (right), share a laugh in front of New York’s first legal dispensary. (Jon Bain / Leafly)

The state will open more stores on a rolling basis going into 2023. No other licensed retailers have confirmed their opening dates yet. Housing Works will be closed from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Thursday, after which doors will open to the public at 4:20 p.m. for legal adult-use sales. The store expects to welcome more than 2,000 first-day shoppers who RSVP’d beforehand, along with those who line up on a whim.

John H, a 24 raised in Queens, hopped off the couch while watching Price is Right after a newsflash about the Housing Works opening during a commercial break.

Equity over everything

(Meg Schmidt / Leafly)
A sneak peek of New York’s first legal homegrown flower, grown by Florist Farms. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

Before the ceremonial first sales, lawmakers and regulators shared their passions and visions for an equitable cannabis industry in New York.

“New York State is not the first state to establish legalized cannabis,” said Mark Levine, Office of Manhattan Borough president. “There a few dozen that went before us. But we are the first state to build equity into the DNA of the program,” Levine said before calling out other states failure to follow through.

“Every single state that did this before, paying lip service to this idea, they had rhetoric of equity. But when the program got running, in the end, major corporate players dominated. We cannot let that happen in New York, we are not going to let this happen in New York, because of the leaders who are here, because of the way the program was designed.”

Mark Levine, Office of Manhattan Borough president
Carlina Rivera, a New York City councilwoman, said she’s been waiting for years to buy and consume legal cannabis. (Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

Carlina Rivera, New York City councilwoman for Lower East Side Manhattan, observed the adverse impact of cannabis criminalization in her community growing up. Now, she’s ecstatic to smoke legally, while knowing the profits are going to those who need it most.

“The day is finally here. I know a lot of us have been waiting. I mean, I’ve been waiting since I was a teenager.”

Carlina Rivera, New York City councilwoman for the Lower East Side of Manhattan

New York wants small cannabis brands to thrive

(Meg Schmidt / Leafly)

The current regulations for New York’s weed industry prohibit the presence of vertical operators in the budding market. The state has expressed that it wants the legal weed industry to resemble the alcohol and wine markets, wherein small retailers choose the brands that buyers love and major companies can’t buy undue influence like premium shelf space.

“It is extremely important that the first dispensary is not a major corporate operator. It is run by a wonderful nonprofit, Housing Works. So the revenue generated here is going to support their work for homeless New Yorkers, for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, for people living with HIV. That is equity.”

Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough president

Sen. Liz Kruger (D-NY) said, “I hope [other states] understand that you can make social equity the center of the assignment.” She said lawmakers will continue to look at what every other legal state is doing and pivot accordingly. “I try to take what we saw was good and avoid what was bad,” Sen. Kruger told Leafly after admitting that she hasn’t smoked since her youth, and doesn’t really like the smell.

New York Sen. Liz Kruger said she doesn’t use cannabis anymore, but she is proud to see her state put equity first. (Jon Bain / Leafly)

Hanging out with the first customer in line

Ken, a Leafly fan from Houston, Texas, was first in line outside of Housing Works, smoking a bowl of Green Crack in anticipation of that first 4:20 p.m. sale.

“I don’t trust my local weed dealers. They always tell me [there’s] so much pesticides and whatnot on it,” Ken told Leafly between tokes as he waited in line. “I won’t have to worry about my lungs getting messed up. I’m cool with all the unregulated shops. It’s all good to me. But I would like to sometimes go buy some shit, that doesn’t hurt. Colorado, it goes like 60 to 100 an ounce And so I’d like to see more of that here.”

“I definitely prefer legal dispensaries because I like regulated stuff. I’m just cool with people doing whatever they want. But my personal preference is if I can afford it to get regulated, then definitely.”

Ken, who recently moved to New York from Houston, Texas, and was first in line to buy legal weed from Housing Works.

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Mikhail Harrison, Amelia Williams, and Calvin Stovall
Mikhail Harrison, Amelia Williams, and Calvin Stovall
Trinidad-born, New Jersey-raised content producer Mikhail Harrison has been a cannabis advocate and influencer for over a decade, working both on camera and behind the scenes to normalize the plant for all. New York-based freelance cannabis journalist Amelia Williams is a graduate of San Francisco State University's journalism program, and a former budtender. Williams has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle's GreenState, MG Magazine, Culture Magazine, and Cannabis Now, Kirkus Reviews, and The Bold Italic. Calvin Stovall is Leafly's East Coast Editor.
View Mikhail Harrison, Amelia Williams, and Calvin Stovall's articles
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