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Harlem Gets New York State’s First Retail Location for Cannabis Dispensary

The lease was signed with just three weeks to go in 2022, leaving the state far behind Gov. Hochul’s goal of 20 dispensaries open by the end of the year.

SHARE Harlem Gets New York State’s First Retail Location for Cannabis Dispensary

Stores advertising marijuana have popped up across the city, but the first state-approved retail location is coming to Harlem.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

After much anticipation — and concern — about when New York would reveal its first locations for cannabis shops, the state authority overseeing the leasing of dispensaries has announced the first site, near the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.

During the meeting on Monday of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), president and CEO Reuben R. McDaniel III announced the Authority had signed its first lease, for a property located at 248 W. 125th St. McDaniel said the authority hopes to sign more leases by year’s end. 

“I’m pleased to announce that last night we signed our first lease,” he told the board. “For those of you familiar with Harlem, you can stand at the Apollo and throw a baseball right across the street.” 

McDaniel said the design team had finished preliminary plans for the 2,800-square-foot space, and that construction would start soon after DASNY approves a final plan. 

At the meeting, McDaniel did not say who would operate the dispensary. DASNY did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The announcement comes amid doubts about whether the state will meet its goal of opening its first legal dispensaries by the end of this year. The first Office of Cannabis Management-issued permits, known as Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses, are reserved for people who have been impacted by cannabis prohibition and nonprofit groups serving people with past cannabis-related arrests or incarceration. 

In October, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that 20 legal dispensaries would be open by the end of the year, a goal that looks unlikely due to all the loose ends, including securing locations for the dispensaries through the Dormitory Authority. 

The signing of the first lease, however, comes at a time when unlicensed cannabis vendors have become increasingly visible across New York City, with a little more than three weeks left in the year. While Albany legalized cannabis last year, the CAURD recipients will be the first business to operate dispensaries that are actually licensed. 

First of 150

The state’s plan pairs the individual CAURD license holders with ready-to-go retail locations, as well as access to loans — an important component in helping these businesses succeed because of the difficulties  cannabis businesses have in securing loans through regular banking means. It is also an effort to ensure that the people who’d been punished by old drug laws not only get a head start, but enough of a foothold that they don’t get pushed out when bigger players enter the market. 

In order to pay for the build-out of the dispensaries and help with the loans, the state created a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund. DASNY awarded management of the fund to Social Equity Impact Ventures LLC, a private venture team including NBA star Chris Webber, former city Comptroller Bill Thompson and entrepreneur Lavetta Willis. The team is tasked with raising $150 million of the total amount from private investors. 

Despite that, the fund has yet to announce whether it has raised any money toward the fund. Syracuse.com reported that Webber and Willis had interests in cannabis brand Cookies, a potential conflict, and that other ventures from the two had failed to produce results.

Similar to liquor licenses, community boards will be able to give positive or negative recommendations for dispensaries within their district. While the Office of Cannabis Management is tasked with approving the licenses, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) has a mechanism for community boards to weigh in on dispensaries in an advisory role. 

However, the MRTA states that for “premises leased from government agencies,” that provision does not apply, creating ambiguity over whether community boards have even an advisory role in considering the properties DASNY is securing. The authority did not respond to questions about the role of community boards.

Manhattan Community Board 10 District Manager Shatic Mitchell said on Wednesday that he hadn’t heard about the dispensary coming to the Central Harlem district before THE CITY inquired about it. 

Keshawn Warner, whose business received a CAURD license to operate in Manhattan, said Wednesday that he has not heard from the state about where his dispensary will be located or about relevant regulations, such as the rules for deliveries until he’s able to open a storefront.

“Location, you obviously have your desires,” said Warner, who owns, with his wife, a drugstore called The Pharmacy in Harlem. “Most important to me is the effectiveness of the roll-out.” 

He added: “If it is in Harlem, it would be great for Harlem. It’s a moment in history.”

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