By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]
With a line of eager customers stretched around the block, the first legal adult-use cannabis dispensary in Queens opened its doors on Thursday afternoon.
Good Grades, located on the corner of Jamaica Ave and 162 St., is a woman-owned recreational marijuana business — the first of its kind in the state and city. The owners were selected as some of the first applicants to receive a retail license in an attempt to counter the detrimental effects of cannabis prohibition that their family experienced firsthand.
This marks a new beginning for co-owners, Extasy James and her cousin Michael James, Jr., a Jamaica, Queens native. Extasy’s father was deported to Jamaica when she was three- years-old following a cannabis-related criminal conviction. Being the eldest daughter of four children, she says that the responsibility of carrying her family forward fell on her shoulders.
“I think the city is giving families a second chance and as African Americans, we’ve been targeted the most,” said Extasy, who was born and raised in the Bronx, during the grand opening.
The store will remain open for 30 days as a “pop-up” shop and then close for final construction. The location will reopen permanently by the end of the year. In the meantime, various strains of flower, prerolls and edibles are available for purchase.
“This new endeavor is a significant milestone for our family, hometown and women in New York,” said James, Jr. who is also an attorney that works with minority small business owners.
A Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license is designated for business owners that were implicated, or had a close family member impacted, by the long-standing criminalization of cannabis. By giving justice-involved owners priority in receiving the first retail licenses, the state hopes to build an equitable foundation for its novel legal marijuana industry.
“I think this has been a long time coming for Queens,” said John Panella, 73, who has been smoking marijuana since he was 16-years old. He was one of the first customers on line, arriving an hour before the store opened. “They seem to be opening up cannabis places in New York City at a snail’s pace.”
Several waiting customers expressed that obtaining weed in the city prior to legalization was never difficult. But without governmental regulation, customers worried about the source of the plant and whether harmful chemicals, pesticides, or even fentanyl were in the mix.
Ming Gaffney, a 33-year old Hollis resident, said that she doesn’t mind paying a higher price for products if it brings her peace of mind knowing where they came from. She was also proud to support a woman owned business.
“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,” said Governor Kathy Hochul.
All legal dispensaries in the state will only sell products that are cultivated by New York’s farmers within the state. Flowerhouse, cultivated in upstate Walden, NY, is one company whose flower products are sold at Good Grades.
Since legalization hit the state, a wave of smoke shops that also sell cannabis products without a license have popped up across the city. At the end of January, the Sheriff’s office raided three smoke shops in Queens, two in Whitestone, and confiscated millions of dollars in products.
In neighboring Richmond Hill, a 20-year-old employee at Plug Smoke Shop was shot and killed during a daytime robbery last month. The store was open for less than a year.
Extasy declined to comment on the unlicensed sale of marijuana in neighboring smoke shops. Instead, she wanted to focus on how the legalized route can serve as an inspiration for the community.
“I want everybody to know that you can have a second chance, if your family or anybody else was wrongly convicted or jailed, you can reunite your family and you can make something of yourself,” she said.