Judge allows Williamsbridge Road dispensary to open amid statewide cannabis legal battle

Levent and Denis Ozkurt pose with a sticker to put in their window signalling they are licensed. They stand in front of a mural with a Bronx subway and a sign that says Hush.
Levent Ozkurt, left, and his cousin Denis Ozkurt received a sticker signaling that they are licensed to sell cannabis to put on their dispensary window at 2460 Williamsbridge Road. But they didn’t actually receive their license due to a statewide legal battle.
Photo Aliya Schneider

After months of preparation, cousins Levent Ozkurt and Denis Ozkurt passed their compliance inspection, the final step to open up their state-regulated cannabis dispensary at 2460 Williamsbridge Road — almost.

They passed “with flying colors,” on Aug. 3 and were even given a sticker to put on the window with a QR code signaling a legitimate license, Levent Ozkurt told the Bronx Times. All they needed was the actual license, which they were told would land in their email within two days.

But the Allerton business owners never got the license, and didn’t know why until they heard about a court injunction on the news, in which Judge Kevin Bryant prohibited New York state from continuing to allow dispensaries to open last week. The freeze is part of a lawsuit against the state Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) that was filed in Albany Supreme Court just one day before the Ozkurts’ inspection. The plaintiffs, a group of service-disabled veterans, are contesting the state’s rollout of recreational cannabis dispensary licenses — which have only been made available to people with prior marijuana convictions and their families, as well as nonprofits that serve the formerly incarcerated population.

On Tuesday, state officials requested the judge to allow 30 dispensaries to open that they said have already met the requirements for licensing. The Ozkurts’ shop is the only one from the Bronx that made the list.

And lucky for them, it was also one of 23 the judge granted the exemption for on Friday morning.

Matt Catalano points to a product in Levent Ozkurt's hand while Denis Ozkurt smiles
From left, Matt Catalano speaks with Denis Ozkurt and Levent Ozkurt about his edible cannabis company’s products in the Ozkurts’ shop on Thursday, Aug. 24. Photo Aliya Schneider

The Ozkurts’ license is under the name New York City Cannabis Emporium, but their new shop is called Hush — a nod to the “hush hush” nature of the dispensaries, Levent Ozkurt told the Bronx Times.

In line with state regulations, the windows of the shop are tinted black from the outside so no products can be seen, and there are no ads on the exterior, just a simple sign with the business name and hours of operation. Their cameras are set up, alarm contracts in place and employees hired. A mural painted by local artist Bill Gibbons that features Bronx landmarks lines the wall. All that’s missing are the products and the customers.

“We’re already done,” Levent Ozkurt said on Thursday, the day before the good news. “It’s just a matter of getting the license itself. For us, it’s just waiting for them to say ‘go.'”

The cousins and co-owners expect to obtain their license on Monday, Levent Ozkurt told the Bronx Times after the Friday morning order. Then, they can finally order merchandise to line the empty shelves in their store. They expect to open within two to three weeks.

On Thursday, the cousins met with Matt Catalano, the director of wholesale for cultivation company Hudson Cannabis and edible company 1906, to discuss his products in anticipation of positive news the following day.

Catalano showed the cousins plant-based capsules with different names like “Love” and “Chill,” explaining which is good for panic attacks, pain or just making a bad day feel better.

“If you take this, you’re a genius,” Levent Ozkurt joked, holding up one called “Genius.”

Hand holds a yellow canister that says "genius, 30 plant-based pills for brain power"
Levent Ozkurt joked about the name of a capsule called “Genius” in his shop on Thursday, Aug. 24. Photo Aliya Schneider

The cousins discussed how they want to supply kosher edibles to cater to Jewish customers, and Catalano talked about how the fall harvest is right around the corner. While his company has been able to get their products on shelves, some wholesalers are having a hard time finding demand to meet their supply with a sluggish rollout riddled with hiccups.

“There’s so many people who put their whole entire lives into opening a shop and now it’s just at a halt,” he told the Bronx Times. “But for us, we’re trying to take it as much of an opportunity as possible for a time to catch up with all of our accounts that we’re already selling to.”

Levent Ozkurt said he doesn’t understand why the plaintiffs decided to sue now, after hundreds of provisional licenses have already been granted and shortly before the state’s plan to open up eligibility for licenses this October. But it’s not the first legal battle against the state’s cannabis officials, who have faced five other lawsuits, including one that was dismissed and another that was resolved.

The state-sanctioned dispensaries have also faced challenges on the hyper-local level. While an attempt to oppose the Ozkurts’ dispensary didn’t initially garner enough votes from the local Community Board 11, the board later took a stance against the location. One of the concerns from locals is the proximity to schools and a playground — albeit fenced off — that sits directly across the street.

While Levent Ozkurt told the board they will have a no smoking policy in front of the storefront and ask customers not to smoke near the local school or playground, it’s generally legal for adults to smoke marijuana anywhere they can smoke cigarettes in New York City.

Similar to how they weren’t notified about the license freeze, the Ozkurts didn’t even know about the CB11 meetings regarding their dispensary location until the Bronx Times reached out.

the exterior of the shop shows black tinted windows and a small decal on the door that says Hush with the hours of operations
The windows of the 2460 Williamsbridge Road shop are tinted with only the store name and hours of operation. Photo Aliya Schneider

“Everything I’m finding out, I’m hearing from the news,” Levent Ozkurt said.

The shop was the first dispensary to be considered by a Bronx community board, according to OCM, and was slated to potentially be the first legal recreational “joint” to open in the borough. But a dispensary called Statis, which opened in early July, beat Hush to the punch. State-regulated recreational dispensaries have also been in the works for the former Mott Haven Bar & Grill and a shuttered 7-Eleven in Pelham Bay.

The first licensed recreational shop in New York opened in Manhattan in December 2022. And by the time a half dozen dispensaries opened in New York City this spring, the Bronx was still left without one despite being historically subjected to harsh cannabis policing, which the rollout was intended to make amends for.

But much of the nascent industry’s start hasn’t gone according to the plan.

Gov. Kathy Hochul told Syracuse.com in October 2022 that she expected 20 storefronts to open by the end of that year, and then about 20 more to open on a monthly basis each month after. But almost a year later, there are just 23 legal shops in the state, some of which only offer delivery — like Shesh NYC, a business licensed in the Bronx that also serves customers in Westchester County and upper Manhattan.

OCM did not respond to questions from the Bronx Times about whether other dispensaries on the list of 30 licensees also completed their compliance checks, and what the injunction means for other dispensaries planned for the Bronx.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes