By Niko Balkaran
After years of having to use cash to buy marijuana on Jamaica Avenue, Queens residents now have the option to use their debit cards.
The borough’s first legal cannabis dispensary, Good Grades, has opened one block from York College CUNY. The announcement came from Gov. Kathy Hochul, who said the shop would be the first woman-owned conditional adult-use retail dispensary in New York state.
“With the opening of Good Grades in Queens, we’re continuing to build on our progress to create a safe, regulated cannabis industry in New York,” Hochul said. “New York is working to support entrepreneurs and ensure that consumers can purchase safe, legal products while supporting their communities.”
Good Grades will be operated by Extasy James, an entrepreneur previously arrested for cannabis, and her cousin, Michael James, Jr., an attorney who focuses on serving clients with a core value of advocating for the minority business community.
“We are incredibly passionate about providing greater access to cannabis and breaking down the barriers that prevent so many people, especially those from marginalized communities, from experiencing the benefits of this amazing plant,” said Extasy James in the governor’s press release.
At York College, student reactions are mixed about the new shop.
One student said the shop was a little late in opening up, but it’s still amazing it did.
“It’s about time we got some safe and high-quality weed in this borough,” said Bassam Ismail.
Another student thinks it does not matter as “about six operating near the school since the summer.”
The notion of safe cannabis is at the forefront of most people’s minds whether they want to try the drug or not. In recent years, reports have grown about fentanyl-laced marijuana. However, a News Nation article says these claims are unfounded. But that does not mean the drug cannot be laced with other substances on the unregulated market. And a legal dispensary, while making the drug easier to purchase, would also be a safer option.
“At least (supposing) legal marijuana sold in NYC licensed stores has been approved under the jurisdiction of the FDA,” said Martin Colucci, a licensed and certified addiction counselor. “All too many times, street hybrid marijuana has a proclivity of being adulterated with toxic chemicals, for example, acetone and carfentanil.”
Colucci is also an adjunct professor at York College and has written two textbooks on addictive behavior. He also was one of the founding members of the country’s first therapeutic community 180-day inpatient treatment drug program in an NYC men’s homeless shelter.
However, some students said that the dispensary’s targeted customers are apparent with a name like Good Grades.
“While I am not familiar with the marijuana business, I guess that’s what they’re trying to do because most people that smoke weed now are young like us,” said Oscar Ketwaroo, a Business Administration major.
Ketwaroo added that despite this, it is still up to the individual to be responsible about where they smoke. “Just don’t smoke in front of little kids and public areas like parks,” he continued.
Good Grades, three blocks from Rufus King Park, opened on March 30 and will serve as a test run for the future. The dispensary is in a nondescript building with no signage indicating it is a dispensary. While the store was mostly empty a few hours after its official opening, it was primarily out of edibles. Some of the remaining flavors were Ayrloom’s Island Time Pineapple-Mango gummies and the Pillow Talk Blueberry Lavender.
The goal of the opening as a pop-up is to “fast-track sales, provide training opportunities for employees” while also giving the businesses in this model a way to generate enough capital, according to the press release. After, the business will close for construction before reopening permanently. The opening of this dispensary signifies New York taking steps to rectify and bring equity to the industry for individuals with cannabis convictions or relatives of someone with one.
“As we open the first dispensary in Queens, we continue to affirm New York’s commitment to address deeply embedded historical injustices and to create new opportunities to foster intergenerational wealth for those most impacted by disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” said Reuben McDaniel III, DASNY President, and CEO in the same release.
The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, which helped to find the space, did not say how long the pop-up shop would operate or the asking rent in the deal, according to a Commercial Observer article.
While legal weed shops will create more jobs, Colucci also wonders about the problematic marijuana use.
“City and State representatives are talking about the legalization of marijuana will provide more job opportunities and, of course, the city will make money via the city sales tax,” said Colucci. “But no one is talking about the money needed to address a possible increase in cannabis use disorder.”
With the opening of legal cannabis stores in New York, there is also the question of whether there will be a price war between the legal product sold in stores or the illegal street marijuana.
The City University of New York has been stepping into the growing cannabis industry in New York. In August 2022, CUNY announced that over three years, Borough of Manhattan Community College and Lehman College would be getting $2 million in New York State funding to “support the creation and enhancement of short-term credential programs and courses meant to provide pathways to employment in the growing cannabis industry.” This programming included training to get a cannabis-related business license and how to set up and manage the said business. In addition, Queens College and Farmingdale State College also held non-credit workshops last December to “provide an introductory understanding of the cannabis industry in New York State.”