Newest Legal Cannabis Shop Pops Up in Greenwich Village but Will Close for Construction
The first state-licensed dispensary business owned by a person with a pot conviction opens — but will close and reopen again after a state investment fund finishes a promised storefront.
New York state is opening a cannabis “pop up” shop in Greenwich Village as its first retail outlet to be run by a person impacted by a marijuana-related conviction, fulfilling a longtime legalization promise while the state lags on building out dispensaries.
Starting Tuesday, Smacked will operate on Bleecker Street two blocks south of Washington Square Park. It’s owned and operated by Roland Conner, who gushed with joy that his chance to legally sell cannabis products is finally here.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I’m overwhelmed, happy, and at the same time, being overwhelmed, but my family is here, that just makes me feel that this is something that was worth it,” Conner told THE CITY. When he first came to the dispensary location and found out he’d be the first licensed business to open, he had to go back home to collect himself. “It’s really something that can’t be put into words,” he said.
But in less than a month, Conner has to put his ambitions on pause. On Feb. 20, Smacked plans to shut down for three to five weeks, while state contractors build shelving and outfit a permanent retail space.
The stop-and-go rollout is the latest production of the state Dormitory Authority, which controls the leasing and construction of storefronts, as it struggles to deliver on promises to put formerly convicted individuals first in line to sell cannabis legally in New York.
Conner’s store won’t be the first to conduct a legal cannabis transaction: That honor went to nonprofit Housing Works’ dispensary at Astor Place, which opened its doors Dec. 29 to lines that wrapped around the building. Unlike licensed entrepreneurs like Conner — who are obligated to sublease from the state if they want support from a special fund — the nonprofits were free to sign their own store leases and were able to start opening sooner.
The March 2021 law legalizing cannabis in New York prioritized people like Conner who had been caught in the crosshairs of cannabis prohibition. The state tied their licenses to dispensaries to be leased and constructed by a state-controlled social equity investment fund.
At a pre-opening press conference Monday, Dormitory Authority CEO Reuben R. McDaniel III said the pop-up concept will be available to other licensees to help them jump-start retail sales, so they can make money while design, permitting and building are hammered out. McDaniel said the build-out cost for dispensaries could range from $900,000 to $1.5 million, which licensees will pay off over a 10-year period.
“As part of the social equity program,” McDaniel said, “Roland has a chance to make good money over the next four weeks.”
Twists and Turns
The opening of the second state-authorized dispensary comes at a time when New York City and municipalities across the state are grappling with a thriving illicit cannabis market. At a recent City Council hearing, City Sheriff Anthony Miranda said his office had found up to 1,400 illegal smoke or vape shops involved in selling cannabis.
The new legal retailers, who are limited to selling licensed New York-grown product, now have to compete with those unlicensed retailers. The state Office of Cannabis Management, which received just over 900 applications for the licenses, has committed to issue 150 business licenses, as well up to 25 licenses for nonprofits.
Conner didn’t let the crowded market dampen his enthusiasm.
“New York is doing something amazing. They really have supported putting me here, and I’m thinking at the end of the day, it’s a great program, and there’s 149 others,” Conner said during the press conference. “They’re doing a beautiful thing, and I want to support all of those in back that’s coming.”
Most of the retail locations that are planned have not been announced, as the state slowly moves to sign leases with landlords. During a Dec. 7 board meeting, the Dormitory Authority revealed it had secured its first location, in Harlem — but that site has yet to open and has faced local pushback.
The pop-ups aren’t the only shift from the Dormitory Authority as it struggles to get retailers like Conner into business swiftly, after the Office of Cannabis Management in November issued the first 28 business licenses, plus another eight for nonprofits.
As THE CITY previously reported, state officials have begun to allow licensees to offer delivery services while they wait for retail spaces. And in December, the Office of Cannabis Management told operators for the first time that they could choose their own retail spaces.
Last June, the Dormitory Authority awarded Social Equity Impact Ventures a contract to manage the fund, tasking the firm led by NBA basketball player Chris Webber, businesswoman Lavetta Willis and former city Comptroller William Thompson with raising $150 million from the private sector. Neither the state nor the firm has since disclosed any details about funding.
Ultimately, the state fell short of opening the 20 dispensaries Gov. Kathy Hochul said would be in business by the end of 2022, with just Housing Works Cannabis Co. launching in time.
Coss Marte, who has a license application pending, is a co-founder of the CAURD Coalition, which is made up of licensees and hopefuls for Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary outlets. Marte considers the pop-up concept a great idea, and is helping Conner and other licensed businesspeople to build a clientele and gather data.
He said that if he becomes licensed, though, he would prefer to open a delivery service while the dispensary gets built out.
“It could generate enough revenue so he could get kicked off, get the clientele he needs, get the data he needs,” Marte said about Conner’s shop opening as a pop-up. “It’s good to open and have the information you need to really open up fully.”
During the conference, Thompson celebrated the opening of Smacked, commending the joint efforts of the agencies and private partners involved in the opening of the dispensaries. He singled out New York state for prioritizing equity.
“When you look around the country when they talk about social equity, has it worked?” he asked. “Just really hasn’t worked. New York had a different vision.”
He went on to say that the state’s cannabis rollout will prioritize people of color and those impacted by past prohibition. “We’re usually at the back; we’re at the front right now,” Thompson said. “People of color are at the front, those who have been victims are at the front.”
Conner said the pop-up concept is fine, noting he has his team around him for help. The dispensary did not yet have signage outside the building. On the inside, blue and white seemingly temporary walls had been installed, covering brick. Tacked onto the walls were renditions of how the dispensary could look when finalized, with text that appeared to be placeholder text in Latin.
“Everything that’s new is a process,” he said.