BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — The first adult-use cannabis dispensary north of New York City opened for business Friday on Court Street in Binghamton.
It's no short drive for Western New Yorkers, at seven hours round-trip, but it is half the distance to the next-closest legal dispensaries in Manhattan.
Just Breathe. will be owned and operated jointly by the Broome County Urban League, a nonprofit, and On Point Cannabis.
The dispensary is one of 66 applicants statewide who have received a license through the state's conditional adult-use retail dispensary or CAURD program, which gave first access to justice-involved individuals who were previously impacted by a marijuana conviction.
"There's still a lot of work to be done because we are the first [in Upstate] I want to make sure we dot every 'I' and cross every 'T.' We want to make this go smooth all the time and set a good example for the days to come," On Point Cannabis CEO Damien Cornwell said.
Cornwell was "humbled," he said, to be the first in Upstate and the Southern Tier to open a legal dispensary. The Office of Cannabis Management has said it plans to issue 150 CAURD licenses in total.
But for the time being, applicants in Western New York, the Finger Lakes, and three other regions remain unable to receive conditional licenses because of ongoing litigation against the state.
A federal judge in New York's Northern District recently rejected the state's request to alter the injunction that's preventing those licenses from being given out, although applications from the five regions are being received and scored according to Adam Perry, a member of the Cannabis Control Board.
Members of New York's Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), including executive director Chris Alexander, attended Friday's grand opening. While Alexander told 2 On Your Side he could not comment on the pending litigation, he offered the following comment to applicants stuck waiting because of it.
"I know that especially seeing business operations getting going, it might feel a little bittersweet, but it's the commitment for us is just about doing the program, rolling out the program in the right way. To [Western New Yorkers] I say we're coming," Alexander said.
Cornwell offered the following outlook for those waiting.
"The wheels of change grind slow; that will get done and people will start. In meantime, it will give us a chance to perfect the system that clearly had some holes in it along the way, so when they do come the upside would be maybe a smoother process," he added.
Inside Just Breathe. containers of cannabis flower for smoking, edible THC-infused items such as gummies and marijuana concentrate for vape pens filled shelves inside glass cases, ready for buyers.
The first sale was a container of Blueberry Bedtime gummies produced by Florist Farms in Cortland, New York. In fact, every product was processed and grown intrastate. Public sales opened late Friday afternoon.
Currently, cash or Dutchie Pay, an online cannabis-friendly pay platform (like Venmo for marijuana), are the only forms of payment accepted. That's because marijuana is still considered an illicit drug at the federal level, and credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard prohibit cannabis payments.
For those currently relying on the illicit market, Alexander encouraged New Yorkers to support licensed dispensaries like Just Breathe., which he said offer a "safer cannabis product" that is tested and regulated.
"We've all seen the illicit activity going on, and I think the best way to combat that is to open more shops ... but also support the local business owners who are investing in the local community," the executive director said.
This week hundreds of New York City smoke shops and dispensaries operating illegally were put on notice by the Manhattan District Attorney.
Other than the three conditionally licensed dispensaries (two in Manhattan, one in Binghamton) all others selling recreational adult-use cannabis are operating an illicit business.