State doubles the amount of available Bronx retail cannabis licenses

Top One Exotic smoke shop is seen in the South Bronx on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.
Top One Exotic smoke shop is seen in the South Bronx on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.
Photo Camille Botello

The Bronx will be receiving double the amount of available retail cannabis licenses than the borough was allocated originally, following an announcement from the state earlier this month.

The state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) said on March 2 that it would be increasing the amount of Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses available to distribute by twofold across the state, from 150 to 300. In the Bronx, that number moves from 10 to 20 licenses, but still falls short of licensers in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Trivette Knowles, a public affairs press officer at OCM, told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that allowing more permit holders in the Bronx is significant, as it is the New York City borough that has been the most historically underinvested. 

“We have so many eligible and qualified business applicants who suffered at the hands of the war on drugs and the over-policing of cannabis prohibition,” Knowles said. “When you look at the Bronx, it’s a perfect example.” 

Part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which she announced last year, is meant to give licensure priority to individuals with prior cannabis-related criminal offenses. The initiative also allows eligible license applicants to receive financial aid from the Social Equity Cannabis Fund. 

In an effort to create a legal cannabis market that is representative of the people it serves, Knowles said it’s part of OCM’s goal to let community leaders in each region spearhead the transition. 

“They want to see their area thrive,” he said. “Representation of any degree matters, but what we’re going to see is (that) doubling the amount of Bronx licensees gives the entrepreneurs the autonomy.”

With the new CAURD licensure expansion, OCM will double Manhattan’s allocation from 22 to 44, Brooklyn’s from 19 to 38, Queens’ from 16 to 32, and Richmond County’s — which covers Staten Island — from three to six.

New York state is expected to generate about $3.7 billion in marijuana sales by 2025. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Recreational marijuana was legalized in March 2021, but the state only just announced the first round of legal cannabis dispensary licenses in November 2022.

Three Bronx businesses were selected for licensure then, and three additional were selected at the state Cannabis Control Board’s Jan. 25 meeting — according to Knowles — for a total of six. Those new businesses are Diamond Dispensary LLC, Luke Cloud Inc, and Half Island Flavors LLC. They join Nube NYC LLC, Carl M Anderson III, and Royal Leaf NY as the fist legal retail dispensary licensees in the Bronx.

But even before the first CAURD permits were granted in the fall, unlicensed shops have become increasingly common throughout the city, and continue to pop up.

An employee at Top One Exotic smoke shop in Concourse, who declined to give his name, told the Bronx Times last month that the location doesn’t sell cannabis products. Some of the CBD goods for sale — like flower, nicotine and edibles, among other merchandise — looked similar to true marijuana products. The store also sold paraphernalia, including ash trays, pipes and bongs.  

In Marble Hill last month, when questioned about the impact of the illegitimate cannabis market, multiple passersby told the Bronx Times they didn’t even realize many neighborhood smoke shops selling marijuana was illegal. Some said they knew the substance is now legal in the city, but they didn’t know some of the sellers aren’t sanctioned by the state. 

Others — like 66-year-old Kingsbridge resident Reenie, who didn’t disclose her last name — said they don’t think most of the unlicensed shops negatively affect their neighborhoods. 

“They have security, right? So I don’t see the problem,” she said about a pop-up shop in her area.

Knowles said his office is working to address some of the confusion surrounding the legality of cannabis in the city. 

“Some people are unsure of even legalized cannabis in the state of New York. You have to recognize that the past 100 years — there was a cannabis prohibition,” he said. “We’re not that far removed from the stop-and-frisk era and the war on drugs. So that’s why OCM is leading with an education-first approach.” 

But making sure people understand that cannabis is legal for recreational consumption anywhere people can smoke a cigarette is only the first step, Knowles said. 

“It’s also making sure that New Yorkers are aware of the equity focus,” he said, which includes educating sellers that there is an opportunity for the legacy market to transition to the legal market.

OCM had already received around 900 CAURD license applications by early March, according to the announcement from the office. Currently, the OCM’s Cannabis Control Board had already issued 66 licenses prior to the announcement increasing the total number.

The majority of the remaining applicants will be considered at a board meeting next month, and other non-CAURD dispensary licenses are set to start becoming available later this year.

— ET Rodriguez and Robbie Sequeira contributed to this report

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated there are 10 Bronx CAURD licensees. There are six.

This story  was updated at 1:20 p.m. on March 15 to include the names of the six Bronx CAURD licensees. 

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected] or (718) 260-2535. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes