Harlem’s First Dispensary Opens to Customers

October 20, 2023 · High Times

After months of controversy and legal disputes, the first legal cannabis dispensary in Harlem opened its doors to customers on Wednesday. 

Gotham Buds celebrated its grand opening on West 125th Street in Manhattan –– just across the street from the historic Apollo Theater. 

According to CBS New York, the store is the “the 26th conditional adult-use retail dispensary to open in New York State,” as well as the first state-licensed dispensary to open in the iconic neighborhood with a rich history of music and the arts.

It has been a long road to opening for Gotham Buds, marked by fits and starts. 

A local business group, the 125th Street Business Improvement District, filed a lawsuit in April challenging the opening of the shop, contending that “the process was conducted secretly in order to avoid opposition from the community.” The group also raised concerns about the cannabis store’s location relative to a neighborhood school.

“We’ve taken this action to really create transparency and to create a channel of communication to understand why this location,” Mukaram Taheraly, the chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said then.

Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said that the group believes “this location is bad for our children.” 

But the lawsuit was dismissed in August after a “judge ruled the business across from the Apollo Theatre is exempt from an injunction blocking the Office of Cannabis Management from opening any other dispensaries while a lawsuit proceeds against its licensing program,” according to CBS New York.

The judge’s ruling set the stage for a grand opening that was tentatively scheduled for September 5, but the date was ultimately kicked to this week.

“Harlem isn’t just our location — it’s our community, our commitment. We’re here to grow roots and become a pillar of dreams realized,” Jeffrey Lopez, an owner of Gotham Buds, said in a statement, as quoted by the New York Daily News. “It’s all about passion, vision and a purpose bigger than ourselves.”

The state’s allocation of recreational cannabis dispensary licenses has drawn other legal challenges, too. In August, a New York judge slapped an injunction on the process, temporarily pausing the awarding of licenses after a lawsuit was filed by a group of veterans.

The veterans challenged the state’s policy of awarding the first round of licenses to individuals with prior pot-related convictions. 

That policy was announced last year by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“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. “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.”

According to the Daily News, the judge who heard the veterans’ case “ruled that the state’s Office of Cannabis Management had failed to comply with the court, undoing the exemption and leaving shops like Gotham Buds in limbo,” but that, “in yet another twist, Gotham Buds and four other dispensaries were cleared to open.”

More from the Daily News on Gotham Buds’ opening:

“Gotham Buds is now one of 11 legal pot shops in the five boroughs. However, there are thousands of unlicensed shops in the city that have ducked state rules and regulations to sell their ganja. The injunction was not the only hurdle the Harlem store had to jump through. Earlier this year, the dispensary faced intense community backlash and was slapped with a lawsuit from a local group of businesses who said the shop would attract crime, add to congestion and encourage drug use in an area already plagued with all three. The application window for nonconditional cannabis business licenses — for the general public — opened on Oct. 4 and will remain open until early December. The newly expanded program will take applications for new retail shops, farms, processing plants and microbusinesses.”

More than two years after New York legalized recreational cannabis for adults, the new legal weed market continues to take shape. 

The law was enacted by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After Cuomo stepped down amid allegations of sexual misconduct, he was succeeded by Hochul, who went right to work in getting the legal weed market up and running. 

Adult-use cannabis sales officially began in December, when the state’s first legal dispensary opened in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood.

“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.” (Full Story)

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