NY opens first legal recreational marijuana dispensary in Manhattan

New York is turning a new leaf. The Empire State to finally began its first legal recreational cannabis sales on Thursday.

The widely anticipated opening of the first state-sanctioned dispensary, which is operated by the nonprofit Housing Works and is located on Broadway and 8th Street in the East Village, paves the way for a string of openings expected in the coming months in New York. The state legalized recreational marijuana use in March 2021.

A line of hundreds snaked around the block, many giddy with excitement over the opening. The whiff of marijuana filled the air.

"It's officially the first sale of cannabis after about a century of prohibition," New York State Office of Cannabis Management Chief of Staff Axel Bernabe said.

Housing Works is the first of dozens of recently licensed dispensaries to begin selling cannabis to the public. It is a minority-controlled nonprofit in Manhattan that serves people with HIV and AIDS, the homeless, and formerly incarcerated people.

The first official sale was set for right after a morning press conference and the cannabis company hosted a soft launch for public sales at 4:20 p.m., a timely start considering the iconic status of 420 in cannabis culture.

After this grand opening, the shop will open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. It will operate on a cash-only basis.

"We're putting a hiring preference to hire people who have been convicted of cannabis-related offenses," Housing Works co-founder and CEO Charles King said. "We have a whole training program to help move them up into the industry." 

Gov. Kathy Hochul made the announcement earlier this month shortly after the state's Cannabis Control Board took a monumental step in establishing a legal marketplace for marijuana by issuing the first round of licenses. 

"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," Hochul said in her announcement on Dec. 21.

New York legalized recreational use of marijuana in March 2021. The law allows people to have up to three ounces of weed or 24 grams of concentrate for personal use.

New York is also the first place to reserve licenses for nonprofits. However, whether the licenses could affect the groups' federal tax status because pot is still illegal at the federal level is unclear.

The lower Manhattan store is the first of 36 recently licensed dispensaries to open, with an additional 139 licenses yet to be issued by the state Office of Cannabis Management and 900 applicants still awaiting word. Among the first round of licensees were eight nonprofits that included Housing Works.

The industry will face stiff competition, though, from black market retailers who have been sprouting up like weeds all over the city. Earlier this month, a joint task force commissioned by the Mayor's Office inspected more than 50 storefronts and seized more than 100,000 illegal products worth roughly $4 million. State and city officials said that crackdown would continue in 2023.

Compliance and enforcement teams will be on the ground to help ensure it is nothing but smooth sailing for fully licensed businesses, Bernabe said.

"We're making sure that everybody is over 21 who enters," he said. "There are limits on how much you can purchase. There are limits on the way products are labeled and packaged."

Housing Works Cannabis Co. | 750 Broadway, New York, N.Y. | hwcannabis.co

With FOX 5 NY Staff and the Associated Press.