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The first recreational cannabis dispensary from a justice-impacted person is now open

It opens January 24 on Bleecker Street!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

A pop-up cannabis dispensary, the second licensed shop in New York, is opening here in NYC next week—and it’s run by someone with a past marijuana conviction. In that way, it’ll be the first of its kind in New York.

Smacked LLC, owned by Roland Conner, will have a soft opening on January 24 at 144 Bleecker Street, which is the former New University Pen & Stationery shop. Conner will run the shop with his son and wife through February 20. After that, Smacked LLC will close for final construction and then re-open on a long-term basis. 

RECOMMENDED: A first look inside New York’s first-ever legal recreational cannabis dispensary

Opening as a pop-up first allows business owners to open on a short-term basis to fast-track sales and start generating capital for their businesses, according to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office. It’ll also benefit all businesses involved in the supply chain, from farmers to processors and from distributors to retail operators—all to provide safer products customers can trust. 

But the most notable piece of all of this is that Conner is the first justice-involved person, that is, the first person who has a previous cannabis conviction, to open a state-licensed recreational dispensary in New York. It’s history in the making.

“I am so excited to become a part of history as the first individual to open a legal cannabis dispensary in New York City,” Conner said in a statement. “Given my experience with cannabis, I never could have imagined that I would be opening a store like this. I’m grateful for the opportunity to open a business with my son and wife at my side and build generational wealth, working together, right here in New York.

“But this is not just about me and my family. This is about everyone who was harmed by the draconian drug laws of the past. New York’s commitment to righting those wrongs through the law is inspiring. I am proof of that commitment because I’m standing here today.”

This is what the state’s new licensing program is all about. Out of the 36 permits announced back in November, eight were given to nonprofits and the majority of of others were granted to people with past arrests for marijuana as, according to the Daily News, "an attempt to rectify what many see as the past wrongs of an overly harsh system."

“The applicants don’t tell us how much money or experience they have,” says Fagon, adding that they need to show two years of profitability as a business,” Damian Fagon, the chief equity officer at the Office of Cannabis Management. ”We ask: what happened to you? What was your arrest like? Where were you arrested? In the regulations, we can evaluate the applicant based on past contributions to their communities: have they served in leadership? Volunteered in their community? We’re looking for established community leaders or those who have a strong track record of creating opportunities for others in their communities.”

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Fagon adds. “A lot of states didn’t want to go through the trouble of trying to make it work. As many can see, it’s not without its challenges. We’re centering mostly on those harmed by prohibition at the start of our industry. It’s the right thing and sends a message about our priorities.”

Prior to getting his license, Conner owned and operated property management businesses in New York City for 15 years. Right now, he manages a transitional housing facility providing shelter for two dozen men in The Bronx. Conner has received support from the Bronx Cannabis Hub, which was founded by the Bronx Defenders and the Bronx Community Foundation to support individuals applying for the first round of CAURD licenses.

“This dispensary is the latest example of our efforts to build the most equitable and inclusive cannabis industry in the nation,” Governor Hochul said in a statement. “As we continue to work toward righting wrongs of the past, I look forward to new dispensaries—owned by those most impacted by the over-policing of cannabis prohibition—opening soon.”

You might remember that the first-ever licensed recreational dispensary opened during the last week of 2022. Housing Works Cannabis Co, near Astor Place, puts its revenue toward supporting Housing Works programs for homeless New Yorkers and formerly incarcerated ppl living with HIV.

The next nonprofit-owned dispensary is slated to open in February at Union Square. It’ll give 51% of its revenue to the Doe Fund.

We think it’s pretty cool New York’s licensed dispensaries are making such a difference.

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