Harlem Set To Open First Legal Dispensary

It’s Christmas in Harlem! Or rather: 4/20.
Harlem
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It is a celebratory time in one of New York City’s most historic neighborhoods, which will open its first legal marijuana dispensary next week. 

The dispensary, known as Gotham Buds, has a “tentative grand opening” scheduled on September 5 at its location just across the street from the iconic Apollo Theater, according to CBS New York.

The local news station noted that the opening of the business has faced “some pushback from the community.”

A Harlem-based business group called the 125th Street Business Improvement District filed a lawsuit in April with the New York Supreme Court, claiming that the “the process was conducted secretly in order to avoid opposition from the community.”

“We’ve taken this action to really create transparency and to create a channel of communication to understand why this location,” Mukaram Taheraly, chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said at the time, as quoted by CBS New York.

The station explained that it was “the first case challenging the process state regulators use to choose dispensary locations,” and that the lawsuit “accused the state of violating its own law against having a dispensary within 500 feet of a school, with Touro College, which teaches high school students, just a few doors away.”

But in a statement this week ahead of the scheduled opening of Gotham Buds, the 125th Street Business Improvement District hit a more welcoming note.

“We want all of our Harlem businesses to thrive, so we will do everything in our power to help make this be a success for Gotham Buds and our community,” the group said, as quoted by CBS New York.

New York legalized recreational cannabis for adults in 2021, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure into law. 

Many parts of the law took immediate effect, most notably the provision that enabled those 21 and older to have weed in their possession and to toke up wherever smoking is permitted. 

After Cuomo resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct in August of that year, he was succeeded by Kathy Hochul, who made it a priority to get the regulated marijuana market up and running.

The state’s first legal marijuana dispensary opened in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood in December of last year.

“We set a course just nine months ago to start New York’s adult-use cannabis market off on the right foot by prioritizing equity, and now, we’re fulfilling that goal,” Hochul said in a statement at the time. “The industry will continue to grow from here, creating inclusive opportunity in every corner of New York State with revenues directed to our schools and revitalizing communities.”

Under an unprecedented social equity initiative, at least the first 100 dispensary licenses awarded in the Empire State are being awarded to individuals with previous cannabis-related convictions.

“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” Hochul said in her announcement of the initiative last year. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I’m proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building.”

Known as the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, the program “guarantees support for future equity applicants, and secures an early investment into communities most impacted by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” the governor’s office said at the time.

“Our state’s Cannabis Law sets a high goal for creating an equitable industry that puts New Yorkers first,” Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said in the announcement at the time. “The Seeding Opportunity Initiative puts us on a path for achieving that goal and hopefully models a way forward for reaching those goals while building a stable market. I am thankful for the support of Governor Hochul and the Legislature, which made it possible for us to get this initiative off the ground quickly, establish a supply chain from our farmers to equity, retailers, and generate the resources to help revitalize communities that were harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.” 

The allocation of dispensary licenses has so far been delayed by legal challenges. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, a group of military veterans challenged the policy of awarding licenses to those with prior convictions. As a result of the lawsuit, a New York judge extended an injunction on the issuing of additional cannabis dispensary licenses until the matter reaches a resolution. 

“That pushes this from being late to the party to potentially exiled from the process,” Brian Burns, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said earlier this month.

“I don’t think you can quantify how being subjected to an unconstitutional program impacts a person,” Burns added.

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