On Dec. 29, New York’s first rollout of legal retail cannabis will take place at a Manhattan-based dispensary, marking a major milestone for a promising industry. And anticipation is steadily building among local officials and operators for the potential of the Bronx’s legal cannabis market and their role in the state’s multibillion-dollar industry.
When Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law in March 2021, the promise of the bill-turned-law was a reversal of the War on Drugs’ overcriminalization of cannabis in Bronx communities, where the borough’s 46th, 41st, 52nd and 44th precincts accounted for some of the city’s highest marijuana arrest rates over the past decade.
The state’s cannabis industry will be one of the largest small business-generating industries in New York, supporting up to 24,000 jobs within three years and producing nearly $1.3 billion in sales.
But years before the passage of MRTA, local organizers and cannabis justice advocates strategized on how Bronx communities in particular can heal from generations of mass incarceration and build wealth within New York state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis market.
Last month, The New York State Cannabis Control Board approved its first batch of dispensary licenses, with three handed out to Bronx-based businesses: Nube NYC LLC, Carl M Anderson III and Royal Leaf NY.
Only individuals with prior cannabis-related offenses — or who are the family member of someone with one — and who have a record of a successful business or nonprofit were eligible for Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses.
According to a decadelong study of marijuana arrests by NYC police precincts, the Bronx’s 46th, 41st, 52nd and 44th precincts accounted for some of the city’s highest marijuana arrest rates over the last 10 years.
Earlier this month, in the heart of one of the communities impacted by cannabis criminalization and overpolicing — the Grand Concourse — Bronx officials gave aspiring retailers and avid consumers a preview of the cannabis retail pop-up experience soon to hit the borough in 2023 via the Cannabis Showroom.
The three-day event included end-to-end cannabis retail dispensary education experience, a workforce development fair, and discovering entrepreneurial pathways for Bronxites in the state’s cannabis industry.
“Built on a promise of social equity, New York’s cannabis industry presents an opportunity to bring jobs and build generational wealth in our Bronx community that suffered profoundly from cannabis prohibition,” said Desmon Lewis, co-founder of The Bronx Community Foundation, one of the partners involved with the event. “To help ensure that promise is fulfilled, The Bronx Community Foundation is committed to providing educational and workforce development resources through initiatives like the Bronx Dispensary Showroom.”
In March, the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, a Hochul initiative will provide for the licensing of 280 family farmers to grow the first adult-use cannabis in New York state.
“The start of sales through the Seeding Opportunity Initiative is just the beginning of the robust ecosystem we’re building — the equitable and inclusive market will grow from here with supports throughout to ensure licensees are able to overcome barriers and build this new industry,” said Cannabis Control Board Chairwoman Tremaine Wright.
The Bronx is well-positioned as a major connector for upstate distributors and growers and downstate consumers and retailers due to the borough’s proximity to major highways.
“I think New York is going to be a close second, if not, on par with California’s market size in terms of headline coverage and potential total sales,” said Vince Ning, co-founder and CEO of California’s leading cannabis wholesale distribution company, Nabi. “The Bronx will be a pretty critical juncture to bridge the downstate demand with the upstate supply.”
With 2023 poised to be a breakout for New York’s cannabis market, some cannabis advocates are hopeful that the success and changing narratives in states where cannabis is legal, can lead to improved cannabis policy efforts on the federal level.
So far the Biden administration has signed a new medical marijuana research bill, and two other bills on the legislative floor including a bill to protect federal workers from losing security clearance over marijuana and a bill to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to access some federal small business loans and services.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.