In March 2021, then-Governor Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. Suddenly, the green rush for dispensary licenses was on. A year later, Governor Hochul announced a unique plan to prioritize granting licenses to business owners who had been adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. “Even for the smell of it, we were harassed by police,” says Hector Guerrero, a cybersecurity analyst who was first arrested for marijuana possession at the age of 17. After receiving guidance from the Bronx Cannabis Hub, Nube, Guerrero’s family business, is one of 36 outlets that were approved last month to open brick-and-mortar dispensaries. (The Cannabis Control Board plans to issue a total of 175 licenses in the coming months.). Here, some more applicants who worked with the Hub on their high hopes.
Roger Thomas, 52, and Earl Jones, 58
Receptionist and electrician
Our Dispensary: Mello Tymes, the Bronx
Roger: I didn’t know anything about the business or the law or anything like that. A few days before the law passed, my fraternity brother Earl called me up and said, “New York is about to go live and legalize cannabis. We should look into getting a dispensary.” I’m like, “What? We don’t stand a chance. Dispensaries are normally for rich white men. We’re two Black guys, we’ve got no money, we’re broke.” I started doing some Google searches and learned about the social-equity program. I’ve been arrested and convicted, and my friend said, “Rog, you suffered back then. Let’s go get one of these licenses.”
Wherever an Office of Cannabis Management event takes place, we’re there. If they’re in Brooklyn, I’m in Brooklyn, learning. If they’re in Queens, I’m in Queens, learning. Manhattan, I’m there. Wherever Tremaine Wright — chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board — is, I’m there. She even joked, “You’re stalking me.” I was like, “No, I just want this license. I want you to remember me. When my application comes across your desk, just stamp ‘approved,’ okay?”
Eliz Cruz-Irby, 42
My Dispensary: Lyfe Charmz Inc., the Bronx
When I heard that dispensaries were getting legal, I figured it would be medical doctors, rich people, people with millions and billions who would get licenses first. I never thought that me, a girl from the Bronx, would be able to get a dispensary of my own. Then my husband told me about this whole program and what was happening, and I’m like, “Oh my God.”
Coss Marte, 36, gym owner
My Dispensary: Conbud, Manhattan
I have a business called Conbody, where we hire formerly incarcerated people as trainers. In nine and a half years, I’ve hired over 50 people coming out of the prison system and have a zero recidivism rate. I want the shop to tell our story. Maybe have the shoppers take their mug shots and put them on the wall. I even want the Conbud design to mean something. So the B, we made it look like a No. 13 to represent the 13th Amendment.
Juancarlos Huntt, 38, and Sean McKenzie, 38
Entrepreneur and real-estate agent
Our Dispensary: Blackseed, Manhattan
Juancarlos: Our vision is to have the coolest New York legacy brands and products and for our store to be a tribute to New York culture. Cali and Colorado don’t have their own culture. New York is like a nuclear-fusion reactor. We’re only hiring women of color. We’re only carrying brands from women of color. And it’s all going to be genuine. That’s our whole concept for our dispensary. We’re “New York or fuck you.”
Brian Garrido, 34
Lyft driver, videography student
My Dispensary: iDeal Cannabis, Manhattan
In my late teens, I got caught up in my first drug charge. It made the papers. I put my family through that adversity. The police raided my mom’s apartment, and she kicked me out. I know it was hard for my mom to be like, “You can’t stay here,” and not know if I was going to be okay. But the hard times helped strengthen our bond. When I told her I was applying, she was excited. After so many times saying, “I don’t want that shit in my house,” she’s changed her perception of the plant. She doesn’t beat me up over it anymore.
Kenya Malone, 45, and Andrea Spyke, 55
NYCHA bricklayer and financial analyst
Our Dispensary: Solomon’s Garden, the Bronx
Kenya: I’m the one who has the history. Six arrests, two convictions. I pleaded guilty in both cases just to get in and out. I used to tell the police officer, “For a bag of weed?”
Andrea: And you’re one of the lucky ones. There are many more people who have been denied jobs because they had convictions on their record. Now, the social-equity program gives people who were convicted a chance to make money with a dispensary. We want to create a shop that’s modern, that’s chic, that’s inviting and friendly.
Howell Miller, 52
My Dispensary: Two Buds, the Bronx
From the age of 10, I was bagging marijuana in the house with my stepfather. Then I would steal from him, sell some on the streets. I just wanted to buy a minibike or a scooter. Later, I needed capital for my contracting business and didn’t qualify for a conventional loan. So I said, I’m going to do what I gotta do. I ended up serving 119 months, and just got out in January. Serving time was the hard part. But if they give me the license, then it’s bittersweet. I’ll feel as though it might have all been worth it.
Naiomy Guerrero, 31, and Hector Guerrero, 33
Ph.D. student in art history and cybersecurity analyst
Our Dispensary: Nube, the Bronx
Naiomy: Nube is Spanish for “cloud.” We’re applying with our father, who has been a cabdriver for over 30 years. He always educated us around cannabis — “Use it; don’t let it use you” — which is unusual, since in Dominican culture weed is taboo.
Hector: It’s two different worlds, then and now. We used to get stopped by police almost daily. At 17, I spent three or four days in jail for a bag. Now, I don’t even smoke and it’s everywhere.
Llewellyn “Lew” Cruz, 48
Rents cars to Uber drivers
My Dispensary: Savage Leaves, Manhattan
I studied the game for ten years before I got into it. By the time my cousin and I started our delivery service in the ’90s, we knew how to move. We’ve been wanting to come out of the dark and into the light. New York’s finally giving us an opportunity to do that without being persecuted. I’d like to hire people that are disabled, anyone that’s willing to work. We’re here to train you and show you how to do it.
Jasmine Jones, 29
Contract supervisor for a utility company
My Dispensary: Royo Jays, Rockland County
When I was 17, I got pulled over and had marijuana in the car. I was charged with possession, which was then dropped down to driving under the influence. I had just got out of high school and really didn’t want to tell my parents, but I needed a lawyer. I didn’t have no money. My parents were so disappointed. Now I’m trying to open the business with my mother, which is crazy. She had a day care while I was growing up, and I have the charge, so together we’re trying to make this go. Her maiden name is Royal, and I’m the Jay.
Hector Bonilla, 42
Taxi and Uber driver
My Dispensary: Diamond Dispensary, the Bronx
When I do Uber, it has a scale for what type of driver you are: Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. The way you get rated is everything from professionalism to customer service, how you treated the person, how clean your car was, everything. That’s why I called it Diamond Dispensary.
Gregory Pereira, 62, and Melissa Antomattei, 34
Owner of and trainer at a harm-reduction business
Our Dispensary: Blaze420, the Bronx
Gregory: As a youth, I made my living selling weed. This is how I survived. My mother was a heroin addict, and my stepfather was back from Vietnam and he was psychologically damaged. So I had to fend for myself. I worked at McDonald’s, and the manager used to give us weed to sell for him. By the time I was 15 years old, I had a furnished room and sustained myself selling marijuana.
I became a heroin addict, crack addict, and alcoholic. Now I’ve been in recovery for 27 years and I work in harm reduction. I know the recovery models, I know the public-health models, and I want to teach people responsible use. That’s going to be my niche if I’m selected.
Alelur “Alex” Duran, 39, and Alex Hall, 38
Gym owner and program director at Galaxy Gives
Our Dispensary: SovereignNY, Manhattan
Alex Hall: We met on Rikers Island; we just knew each other kind of casually. And we linked back up in 2013, when we were both in Eastern New York Correctional Facility and Dyjuan, our other business partner, was in there also. We all ended up in the Bard Prison Initiative together, and we studied together, and most of us were in the same classes.
Alex Duran: We were in the debate union. You might have heard about that, the big story when we beat Harvard. So we all came together and we graduated from Bard with bachelor’s degrees and everything. We busted our butts all the time, whether it was in prison or in the streets. Even though the social-equity application was extensive and the process was a little convoluted, we have faith that the state is going to do what it says it is going to do, which is putting up the resources, giving us a location, and being a partner with us in this. It’s the least that the state could do after criminalizing our communities for decades.
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