From Legacy to Legal: First Bangladeshi-Owned NY Cannabis Dispensary Opens in Jamaica

By Ana Borruto | [email protected]

Credit: Ana Borruto

Silk Road NYC celebrated multiple milestones at its grand opening at 166-30 Jamaica Ave in Queens, including being the first Bangladeshi-owned cannabis dispensary in New York and the 75th legal adult-use business to open in the state’s cannabis landscape. 

Dozens of family, friends and legal cannabis advocates gathered at 166-30 Jamaica Ave. on Friday, Feb. 23 to show support for owner and Jamaica, Queens native Sohan Bashar.

From sourcing cannabis through underground channels on the dark web to serving an eight-month lockup in Rikers Island Correctional Facility after being arrested in college, the road to success has not been an easy one for Bashar. 

However, the dispensary’s name serves as a reminder of his past in the legacy cannabis market and how far he has come to obtain his legal license. 

“I’ve always been dealt that kind of hand, and this is a restorative justice kind of feeling,” Bashar said. “It is a dream come true and for the laws that were changed, it will bring about a much better society — more accepting of cannabis, not criminalizing it.” 

Bashar said going from a full-time college student to a prison cell was a “brutal” experience. However, over a decade later, now with his wife Marina Gerard, their two-year-old daughter Sophie and another baby on the way, the business owner felt it was a crucial time to pivot to the legal cannabis market. 

The initial step was to begin the application process for a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensaries license — also known as CAURD — which is intended for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses before the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act passed in March 2021. These applicants also must have run a successful business for at least two years. 

In November 2022, the first round of approved CAURD licenses for retail dispensaries and at the end of that same year, the first legal sales of cannabis commenced. 

However, securing a CAURD license requires extensive documentation, so the overall process is a lengthy one. Additionally, an injunction imposed by the New York State Supreme Court in August 2023 derailed hundreds of licensees from opening their dispensaries. 

Even with this obstacle, Bashar remained optimistic, and with the help of cannabis attorney Jeffrey Hoffman, the Jamaica resident received his provisional license in January 2023 and his full license just a month ago. 

“The journey [Bashar has] been on over the last year is unparalleled,” said Damion Fagon, chief equity officer for the Office of Cannabis Management. “This is literally what the [Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act] was written for — for guys like Sohan to build stores in their own communities.” 

Since being licensed, Bashar has independently funded Silk Road NYC’s entire operation, negotiated his rent and completed the build out by himself. The dispensary also sells a variety of high-quality products, including pre-rolls, edibles, vapes, flowers and topicals — all of which Bashar said he tested out before putting them on the shelves. 

Both Bashar and his wife were adamant about opening their business in the neighborhood he grew up in. As a member of Jamaica’s Bangladeshi community, Bashar said Silk Road NYC will serve as a representation of his cultural heritage. 

It was also important to Bashar to hire knowledgeable staff and surround himself with like-minded advisors — like Amy Chin, Annette Fernandez and Kassia Graham of the High Exposure Consulting Agency — who believe in proper cannabis education, as well as challenging the negative connotations surrounding cannabis use. 

“We know in the Bangladeshi community, there is still a lot of stigma around cannabis,” Fernandez said. “I think Sohan is here to break that stigma and raise education and awareness around how important this plant is — that it’s medicinal and healing.” 

Gerard emphasized the importance of her and Bashar’s role in the local cannabis industry, not just as entrepreneurs, but as “advocates for diversity, inclusion and social justice.” 

She could not help but feel emotional talking about Bashar’s inspiring story, which she said is a testament to his resilience and hard work to establish a long-lasting legacy for his family. 

“Everyday, he exemplifies what it means to push boundaries, overcome challenges and strive for excellence,” Gerard said, through tears. “This man is literally a force of nature.” 

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