New Yorkers will be able to buy legal cannabis in 2023 if all continues according to plan with the MRTA rollout, but who will they be buying from? What will the product be like? What will the establishments be like? Will New York get its social equity component right where other states have failed?These questions linger as the wait continues and the anticipation builds. Plans are being made and hopes are being lifted. Six dreamers have their eye on different niches in the emerging industry.
Saugerties MicrobusinessSaugerties residents Kandy Harris and Kristine Gentile-Smith have been making and selling high-end edibles in New York since the beginning of the pandemic. They say that the demand for the products is high, but there are obvious limitations because of the nature of their business. “We’ve mostly had to promote ourselves by word-of-mouth, given the obvious restrictions on how much we can say on social media about exactly what we’re offering,” says Harris.
Harris and Gentile-Smith recently began growing their own cannabis for their products. “We got serious about wanting to provide products that we knew 100 percent where it came from, how it was grown, and what was used to grow it,” says Harris. “We’re very proud to offer that to our customers.”
The pair plan on applying for a microbusiness license, which will allow them to engage in cultivation, processing, distribution, delivery, and sale of their own cannabis and cannabis products. The microbusiness license was created with the expectation that they would be granted in a manner that promotes social and economic equity applicants.
When 2023 finally comes around, the duo sees a number of possibilities. “We would love to be able to partner with dispensaries in the future, for sure, but more importantly, once dispensaries are open, we would hope that means we can promote ourselves a little more robustly, and we can start broadening into catering events or partnering with caterers who want to use our products.” Another benefit of the duo going legal is that they would benefit from the MRTA’s social equity provisions. “We plan to apply for grants and assistance in any way we can since this is a women-owned small business,” Harris says.
Kingston Consumption Lounge“Studio” Stu Chernoff is a professional musician and is, like Harris and Gentile-Smith, a legacy market operator. When New York’s legal cannabis market launches, Chernoff plans on opening up an Amsterdam-style coffeeshop/consumption lounge in Kingston. “When you come into our space, you come up to the cannabis bar, someone is going to take care of you, you’re going to buy your weed and take a seat, and then a server is going to come by and take an order for a cappuccino, soda, or light sandwich.” The concept is wildly successful in Amsterdam, where Chernoff got the idea when he visited in the mid ‘70s.
Much like cannabis catering, a cannabis consumption lounge might not be what you think of when you think of legal cannabis. For Chernoff, however, it’s very simple. “Having dispensaries without lounges is like having liquor stores with no bars,” he says. “For me, it’s all about the socialization,” says Chernoff. “Weed is all about socialization.”
Chernoff plans to take an artisanal approach with his business, favoring businesses likeHarris and Gentile-Smith’s over big cannabis companies, which, he says, are “just like big tobacco.” “We don’t want to do it where we have prepackaged eighths and prepackaged products. We want to buy from local farmers and have all the strains behind us like the bottles in a bar.”
In addition to the craft approach, Chernoff has other ambitions for his lounge. “It would be great to start in Kingston and get the feel of it, then open up one in Manhattan and one inBrooklyn. That would be my goal.” He wants to be a part of the coming cannabis coffeeshop boom, having witnessed the original.
According to Chernoff, you don’t even have to wait until his coffee shop opens in a couple years. By his estimate, there are about 20 members-only lounges operating right now in New York City. He is a member of a lounge that, “Does exactly what I want to do.” It’s fine for the city, but Chernoff figures he would wind up in prison if he tried it himself in Kingston. But the point remains: You can see the future right now. It will only cost a train ride and a membership fee.
Woodstock DispensaryUnlike Harris, Gentile-Smith, and Chernoff, the recently incorporated Illuminated Leaf has a storefront—33 Rock City Road in Woodstock. The owners, Erin Cadigan, Eliza Kunkel, and Lisa Montanus, plan on becoming one of the first dispensaries to open their doors when the time finally comes, but until then, they will sell CBD products, cannabis books, magazines, and accessories, and will host educational events. Some of the event topics include the current state of cannabis legalization, learning about the plant itself, how to get involved in the cannabis industry, and how to become a cannabis activist.
Like Harris and Gentile-Smith, Illuminated Leaf is a female-owned business, as well as well as a social equity applicant. “The cannabis industry, like so many other industries, has historically been dominated by men, so it is exciting to see more women getting involved in this emerging and evolving business,” says Montanus. “New York is doing the right thing by setting a goal of 50 percent of all adult-use licenses going to social and economic equity applicants, which will help level the playing field to some degree.”
Illuminated Leaf takes their role in the community quite seriously. In addition to their pledge to donate a percentage of their profits to non-profit organizations working in their community, they also recognize their duty as stewards to offer up excellent service to their patrons. “We want to continue doing good work by offering a safe and inviting retail space for people to shop in, educational events for people to learn and have their questions and concerns addressed, and selling tested, safe, and high-quality products to our customers,” says Montanus.
“We will be paying our employees a living wage and providing benefits, so they are able to live in the community in which they work,” adds Montanus. A keen focus on social equity is a trait that is essential to the DNA of Illuminated Leaf. They don’t just want to exist in the community, they want to contribute to it.
“We are aware that all eyes will be on us once we open, and understandably so, given that this will be the first-time recreational cannabis will be sold legally in our community. It’s important for people to know that cannabis is one of the most highly regulated products, from the growing and processing end all the way to the retail/sales end.” Illuminated Leaf wants to reassure people that they won’t be a detriment to their community, they will be a source of good in it.
When it comes down to the matter of how everything will really play out, it’s still anyone’s guess. We’re really just waiting on the government. “There are many smart, dedicated, and passionate people working to make sure that New York gets it right,” says Montanus. “We’re so fucked,” says Chernoff. Neither is necessarily wrong.