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Meet your licensed weed dealers

NYC’s legal cannabis dispensary owners say it’s been tough but rewarding to sell you state-sanctioned weed.

Extasy James of Good Grades
Photograph: Rebecca Handler for Time Out New York
Photograph: Rebecca Handler for Time Out New York
Written by
Anna Rahmanan
Shaye Weaver
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

Happy cannaversary, New York!

We declared 2023 the year of weed and it really was.

Over the last 12 months, Time Out New York has followed the wafts of smoke with coverage of NYC’s first-ever licensed recreational cannabis dispensary at Housing Works Cannabis Co. and its incredible revenue stream; its first luxury cannabis and cultural store; Brooklyn’s first woman-owned dispensary; and others including one with a Dior-clad staff and another travel-themed shop that comedian Amy Sedaris budtendered at.

We also covered the opening of a THC museum, which could only make sense in a city that consumes the most cannabis in the world.

It’s a brave new world and NYC’s licensed dispensary owners, some of whom were previously incarcerated on marijuana charges, are pioneers. They’re leading the city and the state’s foray into the sale of legalized recreational cannabis—an industry that has never been regulated here before.

RECOMMENDED: Weed 101: Everything to know about cannabis in NYC

New York State legalized the sale of cannabis for adult recreational use in 2022. That year, thousands of New Yorkers applied for their Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) license and 47 of them went on to open licensed dispensaries, including 16 of them right here in New York City in 2023.

More than 3.5 million units of tested cannabis products were sold across the state’s licensed dispensaries bringing in about $150 million in retail sales and nearly $16.3 million in state revenue, according to the Office of Cannabis Management. This is a boon—the reallocation of tax revenue from these licensed cannabis sales is set to be reinvested in our local communities.  

Best of all, New York’s cannabis market is heralded as the first equity-centered adult-use cannabis market in the country. Many of NYC’s current dispensary owners are owned by people of color and a majority have been justice-involved folks, meaning they had previous marijuana convictions before the law made its recreational use legal.

The complete about-face their lives have taken, from conviction to conciliation, is worth celebrating. 

“We are two years into this experiment, and already, we have launched the most diverse and equitable cannabis market in the nation,” wrote OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander in the agency’s 2023 annual report. “At the start of the year, there were approximately 20 Black-owned dispensaries across the entire country. New York just opened 12 more.” 

But with any “first,” there are a lot of kinks to work out. OCM, the state agency that provides a regulatory structure for legal medical and adult-use cannabis, and its rollout of legal sales hasn’t been without its flaws—many have criticized the state’s commitment to giving licenses to those with past drug convictions, balked at its handling of “illegal,” non-licensed shops, questioned its delays in setting up a social equity fund and complained about its lack of transparency in doling out its licenses.

“New York Cannabis has momentum heading into 2024 and we’ll keep working to make this market grow,” Alexander said. “We have a lot of work to do, and we have much to be proud of; now that the core market architecture is in place, my team at OCM is ready to scale and help this industry thrive across New York State.”

No matter how you look at it, licensed cannabis sales have brought NYC a year of change, a year of growth, a year of firsts. Time Out New York is marking this anniversary by catching up with a handful of licensed cannabis dispensary owners to see how they’ve fared over the last 12 or so months and what it’s like being a pioneer of New York’s legal cannabis scene.

The Faces of Cannabis in NYC

Smacked Village
Photograph: Josh Andrus for Time Out New York

Smacked Village

Earlier this year, Roland Conner, the owner and chief executive officer of Smacked Village in Greenwich Village, became the first entrepreneur with a marijuana conviction to open a dispensary under New York's state then-novel initiative to help formerly convicted folks make it in the now-legal industry.

"The program in New York isn't perfect but officials attempted something and it's an opportunity," he says almost exactly one year after the opening of his dispensary. "We're the beta group, the first to go through this particular process, so they are learning through us what to do next and it's going to be much smoother moving forward."

Clearly, Conner’s perspective is a unique one: in the early 1990s, the entrepreneur had to deal with a string of arrests and convictions related to the possession of weed. Decades later, he’s at the forefront of a brand new industry that’s still taking shape, and his past experiences will undoubtedly influence the way officials will set up the process as time goes by.

Here, Conner dives deep into the way his dispensary has shaped the city’s scene, what he hopes to see in the future and more.

What has your 2023 been like?

Very challenging. It’s not often that a business starts the way this started, given the fact that it was a social equity program. The same people who helped me get a license were the ones who decided who to give the license to. It has really been a learning curve for myself and my family, whom I work with. 

Doing business on this particular level, you have to just know that you’re in charge and be able to leverage your ability to make the ship go in the direction you want to go and not be influenced by others’ agendas.

What would you change about the program?

So many things, although I think that, to a certain degree, we have made progress. I would have changed the pop-up situation. [We were required to do one at first] but I would never have done a pop-up [if I had the choice]. If I did, I would have had the social equity program foot more of that bill because it was very expensive. They did change that, though. They told other current license holders that they didn’t have to do a pop-up and I think that’s because they understood that, based on the struggles we had, it wasn’t necessary.

How is your dispensary different from others around the state?

I think we’re more of a mid-level business and we’re different because we have a different take on the cannabis culture, I feel like we are the culture. We offer an urban feel. Most people who come into our place actually see the legacy and where we come from. We are the ones who paid the price in the beginning as far as getting myself locked up and that’s reflected in how we do this.

What is next for cannabis in New York?

I think that the reins that California has had on the market is about to end. What I’m hearing in New York as far as processes and manufacturers is that they are really stepping. up their game to take back the market. I think people will be buying New York weed, which will be as competitive if not better than California.

What are the most popular products that you sell?

Flower is obviously our main but I was surprised to notice how popular edibles are as well. Specifically, chocolates and gummies. A lot of people who don’t indulge in flower or THC because they don’t want to smell like it or want people to know go for edibles as they are more inconspicuous.

Terp Bros
Photograph: Josh Andrus for Time Out New York

Terp Bros

Walking into Astoria’s Terp Bros, giant, colorful murals depicting Hell Gate Bridge and the lush marijuana flower greet patrons as they make their way toward the back of the new shop. Unlike many licensed recreational cannabis dispensaries these days, Terp Bros doesn’t mimic the sterile vibes of a medical office, a jewelry store or frankly, an Apple store. It’s vibrant and full of friendly and knowledgeable budtenders ready to help you pick the best products for your high.

"We developed our dispensary to be a place where people feel comfortable and is different than what people expected," said co-owner and Queens resident Jeremy Rivera. "Everybody thought they were gonna see Apple stores. That's not me."

An ex-gang member and ex-prisoner turned-justice-involved business owner, Rivera officially opened Terp Bros with his friend and Queens native Alessandro Cottone in October.

Despite getting their CUARD license in April this year, they had to wait several agonizing months to open after an injunction temporarily blocked any more licenses from being awarded. They joined others from the recreational cannabis dispensary community in court this fall, speaking in support of the Office of Cannabis Management's program. 

The result? A new neighborhood business that caters to a growing population of cannabis users, lifts up those who've faced injustice and offers rewarding jobs to locals.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I think I was going to be the owner of a dispensary, like honest to God,” Rivera exclaimed. “As I did my due diligence and did the homework, I realized that, I actually was what they would have considered like a poster child for the program.”

What has your year been like?

The first round of licenses were given in November and we weren’t awarded until April of the next year [of 2023]. When November came and we didn’t get a license, it was like a strike and you get down on one knee. December comes and you don’t get it, you’re down on two knees. And then it’s like every month we were getting hit and hit. I left a really good job to do this. I was a superintendent of a big construction company. I ran five job sites with over 150 men in New Jersey, New York, Upstate and all the city and I had a consulting company … so, I left that because this is a full-time operation and your brain has to be your heart has to be here. And then April happened and we got awarded. We found this location in May and we signed the lease in June. We were going to open in August, so we were one of if not the quickest turnarounds. When the injunction happened August 7, it paused everything. We were able to file ourselves as intervenors on the case … so we got right there in the court with OCM. [But since opening] it's been amazing … honestly a lot better than what we anticipated. We were worried because obviously the illicit shops are a big deal and taxes on cannabis are heavy.

What would you change about the process?

Everybody has their faults. Transparency? From the beginning, [OCM] just being more transparent with the applicants. We’re blue-collar, everyday men and women who are trying to support their families. And we were promised something and if it could have been a little more transparent I think a lot more money would have been saved and I think people’s mortgages would have been paid and people’s car payments could have been paid and their rent when it was due could not have you know could have been paid. There’s a lot, man, but what can we do? What we can do is change what we’re doing now you know, and do it for the better. It’s every day moving forward. We can’t live in the past.

How are you doing your dispensary differently?

You know, we're not just a company coming in trying to sell you weed. We're your neighborhood weed spot. I was your weed dealer who would take a bike ride when I was 17 to your house, you know? So, we're trying to keep that energy, that feeling, that camaraderie and that connection. So it's cool as fuck, man.

I like to call us the Davids [from the story of David and Goliath] of the cannabis industry. We’re just fighting to be ourselves and fighting to show that we’re independent and individuals.

We want people to feel warm and accepted, like they've been here before—the personal interaction with the budtenders.

This [pointing to the shop] was my best friend Joe. He had sleepless nights thinking about putting this together. We always loved epoxy floors. We love the colors and local artists:  Zeehan Wazed is based out of Astoria and does a lot of children’s hospitals and works a lot for not-for-profits. This [pointing to the Hell Gate Bridge mural] was Tommy Kaui Nahulu out of Hawaii. He came in and blessed us with this, but we wanted to be able to create—something that was comfortable, something that was warm.

Everything we do, we do in-house. Our budtenders do our social media. Our clothes are all produced by our budtenders. We try to keep everything here. Why outsource any money when I have all the talent here? I have artists here. I have musicians here. I have actors.

What are your most popular products?

Flower. Electraleaf is actually is our highest-selling product since we’ve started selling. All of the strains are top-tier. 

What is your favorite way to enjoy cannabis?

Smoking a joint. I'm a flower guy. I love hash/hashish. I love just good grown, living, soil, flower, beautifully curated and cultured and taken care of. Yeah, I'm a flower guy.

What is next for cannabis in New York?

[The budtenders] are the next future dispensary owners. These are the next future cultivators, processors, distribution managers, distribution owners, so it's good to see the interaction, for people to get to know each other and create those connections, and like I tell them connect to get into business. 

What about the future for Terp Bros?

Opening another dispensary, growing the industry with people that started from here. Seeing the future be developed with the seeds that we planted. I want to get a lounge. I want to consume. My next location, God willing, is going to be with a consumption lounge.

Good Grades
Photograph: Josh Andrus for Time Out New York

Good Grades

Good Grades co-owners Extasy James and Michael James Jr., who is also an attorney focused on the rights of the minority business community, their dispensary on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn is about much more than providing New Yorkers with good weed products.  

“At the core of our company is educating the consumers in the market,” he says. “We are also taking an educational approach to schooling and guiding the next generation.” 

Quite literally putting money where his mouth his, James Jr. also reveals that the dispensary is working with city colleges to start offering scholarships to students in certain majors—think finance, accounting and urban studies, for example. The program would specifically target industries that, according to the lawyer himself, “have helped us be who we are and can be supportive of the cannabis industry.”

Here, James Jr. discusses the way the cannabis market has changed this past year, what he hopes the government will start paying attention to and the one surprising aspect of his endeavor so far.

How has your year been so far?

As time has gone on, people have adjusted to the market and become more aware and educated. The black market caused a lot of confusion in terms of what’s legal and what’s not and then the parameters of how we operate. We are not only educating people about the product—that is one side of it—but on the regulations and what this new industry has to do, how they have to comply to the new model of how we purchase cannabis products.

What are some of the benefits of buying cannabis from a licensed dispensary? 

I think the benefit of coming to our dispensary is the convenience. We have set hours, for example. On the black market, you can find a guy at certain hours, maybe yes maybe not, he may show up two hours late. The convenience with us is like walking into Target, KMart or Best Buy. 

We also have more selection. We have a steady stream of products and you can bank on the fact that they will be there every time you come in. 

Our process of curating the menu is also important. We choose our products because we want to deliver the best that the market has to offer.

What are some surprising things you’ve noticed this past year?

I think that the most surprising thing that I have seen is that the older generation will come in and say that this is a dream come true for them. The whole experience is something that they never thought they would see in their lifetime. It’s a very moving moment time and time again.

Why is it so important that New York has legalized recreational cannabis use?

We are the movers and shakers in New York. We are trying a new initiative and approach to the market and we set the standard. It may not always be the standard but we set one and it’s important that we join in this fight to end Prohibition federally and nationally. New Yorkers deserved it after all these years. Finally, we have a voice in what’s going on.

What would you change about the way the process currently works? 

I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t have much criticism because this is the first time anyone is doing this and I give them a lot of credit. My only suggestion is that I would just try to provide more digestible information to the participants. I know what’s going on because I’m a lawyer and I’m in the industry but a lot of others didn’t have the information needed about getting through the process of opening a dispensary. I would have encouraged the government to give them an attorney, for example. I think a lot of people could have benefited from that.

Photograph: Josh Andrus for Time Out New York


As NYC’s first luxury cannabis and cultural store, Gotham doesn’t just sell marijuana; instead it also stocks art, housewares, candles and fragrances. Find the shop in the Bowery at 3 East Third Street. Founder and CEO Joanne Wilson said the store set out “to change the narrative around what it means to partake in cannabis in your life, that it is more of a lifestyle. It is not a transaction.

Gotham also partners with STRIVE NYC, which helps people who face barriers get jobs. 

We sat down with Gotham’s CEO Joanne Wilson and the vice president of marketing Geraldine Hessler to reflect on the business so far.

What has your first year been like so far? 

Wilson: Insane. It’s just been a rollercoaster. When we have all these grand ideas of things we can do and we can execute, it’s like, of course, we can do all these things. We have a great team. But here’s the issue: You’re dealing with a highly regulated product. You’ve got to stick to the rules, you’ve got to stick to the law that constantly sort of changes. You’re competing with an insurmountable group of illegal stores and landlords that don’t want to rent to you because it’s cannabis and banks that don’t want to give you money because it’s cannabis. It’s not easy.

Hessler: The cannabis market is full of ups and downs. There’s always something changing. The goalposts are always traveling in different directions. One of the most important things we’ve been able to do is a pivot based on what’s happening in the world of cannabis, but at the same time, stay true to our brand and who we are. We classify ourselves as a cannabis concept space; it’s more than just a dispensary.

Anything surprising?

Wilson: The one thing that I did not expect is the lack of the law taking out the illegal stores. They’re everywhere. There’s anger particularly among parents. There’s the lack of the state distributing that information out to the public through PSAs or conversations or advertising or media. I don’t think that I thought that my biggest competition would be the illegal market.

Why is it so important that NYC has welcomed dispensaries?

Wilson: If you look at the data for New York State, which appears to be the largest group of smokers in the country, how much revenue will be driven into this state because of cannabis. That includes jobs, social equity, all the things. As a dispensary owner, because of all of the history, we feel we’ve done the right thing, we have a very diverse group of people at the top and in the store. Everyone who is full-time in New York, that’s 30 hours or more, you get full-time health care, you don’t have to buy into the system. And we’re doing in-house training to teach people about finance for their own personal needs. So all of these things that I will hope that other owners of businesses do in our future. And I think it’s just good for New York State.

Hessler: So much damage was done with the war on drugs. By making cannabis legal in New York, it allowed people to consume. It’s so important. It’s a plant, it’s not a drug. Cannabis being legal is another step in the right direction.

What would you change about the process?

Wilson: I would change the way the whole thing was set up. The Office of Cannabis Management is set up in a way that there’s oversight on so many different angles that I’m not so sure they should have oversight of. I think that it has been too heavy-handed, that there hasn’t been enough power from the governor, or even different entities that usually get involved in that. So they have a tremendous amount of responsibility in a brand new industry, which is heavily regulated by the federal and the state governments. I think that that has created some of the laws that were made around it and the slow rollout of how this works, even where things are located, who gets the licenses. I think they all had good intentions and still have good intentions, but we could have learned a lot from other states in how we went about this.

How are you doing your dispensary differently?

Wilson: It’s a lifestyle, it’s a concept store. We source in Europe, we source in Japan, there are things in our store you can’t buy anywhere else. Our people are insanely well-versed and we hear that from everyone that walks in the door. They have to go through a very rigorous program that is taught internally, so they really understand the product and how they’re selling to whatever the needs are on the other side. It’s a store that has also created community. We have events all the time and we see people return to the events. It’s a place where you just kind of want to hang out. It feels good, it doesn’t feel transactional. 

What are your most popular products?

Wilson: There’s always new products, so it depends on the week. The Gotham private-label CBD balm blows off the shelves. We have a particular incense match we can’t keep in the store. We do really well with fragrances and candles. The products are pretty equal in sales of vapes, gummies, and pre-rolls. 

What is the most exciting part of your role?

Hessler: The campaign we launched in October was super exciting. It’s our “Say High” campaign, which leans into legalization in New York. “Say High” meaning come in and say hi at Gotham. “Say High” meaning it’s legal, you don’t have to hide what you’re doing anymore. In addition to that, when you say something out loud, you kind of take ownership of it. We are embracing this high lifestyle, this cannabis culture, this new way of cannabis existing in New York.

What is next for cannabis in NYC?

Wilson: One of the things the state should have done and still can do is they gave all these people golden tickets with no capital. I feel that New York state should have created a $400 million fund, that they backed every single loan at 5%. At that level, a bank would have backed it. And if they end up not succeeding, that license goes back to the state and they sell it at whatever the price is at that point. I think the state would make money back in spades. The amount of jobs that would create for multiple people and multiple success for business owner dollars is worth every single penny. And they didn’t do that. 

What about for Gotham? 

Wilson: We applied for two more licenses, and we hope that we get them and that we open.

What is your favorite way to enjoy cannabis?

Hessler: I have a lot of ways. I love edibles for sleep or just relaxing at home. In the summer, I’ll go for a long run and then crack open a cannabis seltzer. Tinctures are great for sleep. I do love pre-rolls; my favorites are the pre-roll mini packs.

Wilson: I’m old school. I still like to smoke a joint, and there is something communal about that, too.

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