An effort to oppose what could be the first recreational cannabis dispensary in the Bronx failed at a Community Board 11 meeting Tuesday night.
Cousins-turned-business partners Levent Ozkurt and Denis Ozkurt have plans to open the New York City Cannabis Emporium, a retail dispensary at 2460 Williamsbridge Road in the Allerton section of the Bronx. The dispensary is the first location that has been approved by the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to submit plans to a community board in the Bronx, which is a required step toward opening dispensary doors in the city, an OCM spokesperson confirmed with the Bronx Times.
While 15 other applicants have also been granted provisional dispensary licenses for the Bronx, only two have site locations approved by OCM, though they haven’t submitted to their corresponding community boards yet, according to the OCM spokesperson. The spokesperson would not disclose the other potential sites.
The Ozkurts obtained their provisional license in April through OCM’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program, for which applicants either had a cannabis conviction in New York state or are related to someone who had a cannabis conviction in New York, and have also had ownership of a profitable business for at least two years. Nonprofits with a history of working with formerly incarcerated people are also eligible.
Deniz Ozkurt, who OCM considers a “justice-involved applicant,” was previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses and has owned and operated Maximus Electric Inc., a wiring and electrical services company, for five years. Levent Ozkurt, who owns the dispensary site, is a real estate developer. They both grew up in the Bronx but are no longer residents of the borough, Levent Ozkurt told the Bronx Times.
“When I found out we were approved, I was excited to be a part of this growing community,” Deniz Ozkurt told the Bronx Times. “I believe that with increasing legal access and proper measures in place, it will lead to safe and responsible cannabis use.”
But members of Community Board 11, which represents the Allerton area, didn’t agree on whether the site was an appropriate location for a dispensary.
The CB11 Economic Development Committee on May 17 voted in favor of a motion to object to the shop location because of its proximity to local schools and concerns about crime in the area. But when the committee brought the motion to the full board on Tuesday night, it failed by a 12-8 vote with one recusal.
Since no one made a motion to explicitly support the dispensary location, CB11 has no recommendation for OCM. The Ozkurts can now proceed with their plans and OCM will do a compliance check before granting an operating license once the shop is ready to go. An OCM spokesperson explained that while the agency takes board recommendations into consideration on a case-by-case basis, a license wouldn’t be revoked because of one.
Levent Ozkurt told the Bronx Times he estimated that the dispensary could be ready in about two months, as they have started building out the space. He plans to hire about 8-12 local employees.
The co-owner answered questions from board members before their vote Tuesday night, but he wouldn’t have known to show up if the Bronx Times had not interviewed him earlier that day.
The Ozkurts submitted an OCM notification letter to CB11 about their intentions to open the dispensary on May 3 and never heard back from the board, Levent Ozkurt said. But that’s because the board didn’t have contact information for the Ozkurts, according to CB11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke.
Levent Ozkurt bought the Williamsbridge Road property with his wife Mane Kulic Ozkurt (who manages the building and is not involved with the dispensary) in April 2018. The first floor, where the cannabis shop will be located, previously housed a cafe but has been vacant since the Ozkurts bought the property. An exterminator company is located upstairs, Levent Ozkurt said.
The building is across the street from the New York City Housing Authority’s Pelham Parkway Houses and is around the corner from PS 89, The Williamsbridge School. There is a liquor store and smoke shop on the same block.
New York state requires cannabis dispensaries to be 500 feet from schools or 200 feet from a house of worship, but the distance requirement only applies if the school is on the same road as the dispensary. PS 89 is 528 feet from the dispensary, according to Google Maps, and while a public playground is across the street on Williamsbridge Road, the school is on Mace Avenue. The Christopher Columbus High School building, which has multiple schools within it, is a few blocks away.
Chris Kirka, a community coordinator employed by the community board, had strong feelings against the location at the Economic Development Committee meeting and claimed there have been many shootings in the area.
“I don’t think this is the right place for the dispensary to be,” he said. ” … it can be anywhere else but in that area.”
Historical NYPD data shows that there were two shooting incidents on the strip of Williamsbridge Road where the dispensary is located between Mace and Waring avenues in 2014, one in 2019 and one in 2022.
A 2019 study by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that while streets with recreational dispensaries in Denver, Colorado saw increases in property crime, there weren’t changes in violence. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group, points to various studies that say retail cannabis shops are not associated with an increase in crime and may help prevent certain crimes.
Dispensaries in New York are required to have security measures in place.
Levent Ozkurt assured the board that there will be a security guard and cameras outside the dispensary and those who aren’t at least 21 years old will not be allowed inside. He said that OCM will shut down nearby illegal dispensaries once his legal shop opens, and pointed to an illicit shop down the street. Gov. Kathy Hochul granted OCM additional enforcement power earlier this month.
Unlike unpermitted dispensaries in the area, Levent Ozkurt said his store will be discreet with tinted windows and there won’t be product advertisements outside, just the name of the store.
“We’re looking to do everything above board, as it’s supposed to be,” he told the Bronx Times. “So I believe once we’re allowed to open the dispensary there, it will ultimately force the other ones to shut down.”
There will be a no smoking policy in front of the storefront, and the business will hand out fliers with each purchase asking customers not to smoke near the school or playground, he said.
While the hours of operation haven’t been set yet for the dispensary, Levent Ozkurk predicted it will close at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
CB11 member Miguel Dyer said at the Economic Development Committee and full board meetings that there are liquor stores, bars and illegal cannabis dispensaries all over the city, including near schools, and he appreciates the applicants trying to get a legal license.
“It behooves us to be nice to the guys that are actually trying to do the right thing,” he told the board Tuesday night.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes