On May 18 and 19, retailers, buyers, and investors attended the exclusive, invite-only Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference in Manhattan, NY. The prestigious two-day event, billed as the first B2B trade event of its kind, was an opportunity for luxury cannabis, CBD, and hemp wellness brands to connect with New York’s burgeoning adult-use market.
Unlike other tradeshows, LMCC’s aesthetic was akin to an Apple Store—spacious, white and inviting. Dozens of brands were in attendance, with sitting areas purposefully created for conversations. In addition to the retail exhibition, there were some high-profile speakers covering some hot topics, including “New York Cannabis Retail Comes Alive: OR Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know But Were(n’t) Afraid to Ask,” presented by the New York State Cannabis Control Board and Bloomberg News and featuring Tremaine Wright, Cannabis Control Board Chair, New York State Office of Cannabis Management.
When I first walked in and began to make my rounds, I immediately noticed the packaging of what looked like a teddy bear falling asleep and I headed in that direction. I was greeted by a smiling man with a firm handshake. He turned out to be Kyle Paradiso, CEO of Sleepy Bear Gummies. The all-natural sleep aid products are redefining the word “wellness” and how it relates to selling cannabis and CBD-infused products.
Paradiso, a former army ranger, experienced multiple spinal cord injuries that led to his premature medical retirement from the military at the young age of 24 in 2016. Enduring chronic pain as a result, he faced numerous sleepless nights and sought solace in CBD and cannabis, which ultimately transformed his approach to wellness and provided significant relief.
“Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all approach and neither should CBD be for its use”, Paradiso says. “Getting the active material, albeit THC-v or CBD, into the bloodstream and doing what it needs to do for relief is what matters. My goal is to offer the fastest, most effective edible on the market”. And he’s not wrong, most people avoid gummies for their ambiguous dosage and onset time—I know I do.
Continuing around the show, a few other brands stood out to me including Dad Grass, Pamos beverages, and Drew Martin pre-rolls. Dad Grass for its nostalgic, approachable packaging, and its ability to be self-aware about its market position and X-factor as a CBD pre-roll that isn’t looking to get you high at all; rather, it wants to chill you out with a glass of wine, so you can stay in the moment while your friends partake in stronger cannabis. Pamos is a delicious well-branded infused beverage that left a minimal weed-like aftertaste, that really played well to the California sober crowd.
What I appreciate about the Drew Martin pre-roll is its ability to make a standard joint look and feel pretty. The brand infuses cannabis with natural botanicals, so you get a potpourri-smelling joint versus the standard aromas we’ve all become accustomed to. They offer both high and low doses, so you can relax with friends or with your thoughts while being grounded, engaged and immersed in the moment.
Overall, the Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference was a great event with positive energy. I am glad I had the chance to attend and see first-hand the direction NYC is taking with the “luxury” narrative.
In a paradox, New York authorities are finally unleashing the long-anticipated crackdown on the state’s legion and proliferating unlicensed cannabis retailers—while the licensing program continues to be slowed by obstacles, including legal challenges.
The free-for-all in the cannabis market that has ensued since legalization in New York State two years ago has been dubbed the “Wild East.” But with authorities long threatening a crackdown, there has been a sense of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Now, that boot is starting to come down.
The official statement on the April 27 deal included this bullet point: “Expanding the enforcement powers of the Office of Cannabis Management and Department of Taxation and Finance to further grow the legal marketplace for cannabis, including levying fines on illegal retail operations and closing those shops down.” Hochul’s plan jacks up the fines for retail outlet violations—$10,000 per day for illegal sales, and up to $200,000 if unlicensed cannabis is found in a store’s inventory. A crackdown had already been underway at the local level—especially in New York City, where upwards of 1,400 unlicensed outlets are said to be operating.
At a press conference back on December 15, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the creation of a Cannabis NYC Interagency Enforcement Taskforce—bringing together the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the NY Police Department and the state Office of Cannabis Management. At a January 18 City Council hearing on the matter, NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda testified that “teams will be dispatched to all five boroughs on different days of the week. We’re conducting long-term and short-term investigations.” In February, Adams’ administration announced a related effort in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In a first action, Bragg sent letters to more than 400 landlords warning them to evict unlicensed cannabis outlets before marshals were sent in to do so.
Raids Across Five Boroughs
And there have indeed been results on the ground. The most recent shortly followed the unofficial international day of cannabis celebration, April 20—which saw joyous crowds happily and openly toking in the iconic Greenwich Village park, Washington Square, a de facto HQ for marijuana lovers. Four days later, the “Happy 420” balloons were still on display in the front window of the Myrtle Smoke Shop in Ridgewood, Queens, as investigators from the Task Force and cops from the 104th Precinct swooped in for a raid. Two store clerks were arrested, and the outlet was slapped with 63 violations, totaling some $45,000 in fines.
March 28 saw a major raid on Staten Island, with authorities reporting the seizure of nearly 100 pounds of cannabis, as well as 69 “magic mushroom candy bars.” Staten Island’s conservative District Attorney Michael E. McMahon apparently acted with local cops independent of the Task Force and took the opportunity to opine in a statement: “No one is naïve enough to believe that these establishments are financially thriving exclusively from snacks and soda alone. Yet, with NYPD manpower at historic lows not seen in a generation and a toothless Office of Cannabis Management designed by idealistic and unrealistic legislators, a black market has been allowed to balloon across the five boroughs posing a threat not just to our children but to legitimate customers as well.” He added on Twitter, with photos of the haul: “Unlicensed shops selling illegal drugs & THC products are a stain on our communities & undercut law abiding businesses.”
On January 5, the Task Force raided several smoke shops on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, seizing more than $200,000 worth of “unregulated THC vapes, edibles, untaxed cigarettes and flavored vapes.” Some $16,000 in fines were issued to the offending outlets. City Council member (and former Manhattan borough president) Gale Brewer boasted that she “rode along” for the raids.
A December 14 raid on a mobile dispensary dubbed Beach Boyz Budz in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach similarly became a politician platform. Councilmember Joann Ariola was on hand as the two men operating the van were arrested—charged with criminal sale of cannabis in the second and third degrees, and criminal possession in the third degree. “Crime doesn’t pay in District 32,” said Ariola. “The owners of this unlicensed operation were thumbing their nose at local law enforcement for months as they peddled their goods.” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz added: “Stores, trucks and other outlets currently selling recreational marijuana are doing so illegally.”
This was just as the Task Force was beginning its work, and over the past two weeks, the Sheriff’s Office had announced more than 600 pounds of cannabis confiscated in raids on unlicensed outlets across the city’s five boroughs. Gov. Hochul has also unveiled a “Why Buy Legal New York” media campaign to encourage New Yorkers to only purchase from licensed dispensaries—emphasizing “the potential health risks associated with purchasing cannabis products from unlicensed businesses and why regulated cannabis products are safer.”
Is The Crackdown Itself Illegal?
However, there was a little glitch to the well-publicized crackdown, which unfortunately won little media coverage. The New York City Deputy Sheriff’s Benevolent Association on February 2 wrote a letter to Corporation Counsel, the mayor’s legal office, demanding clarity on how the Sheriff’s Office has authority to carry out cannabis raids. “We’ve been unable to find any legislation related to the inspection of unlicensed retail locations, or any cannabis legislation mentioning the Sheriff as an enforcement officer,” the letter stated.
The Sheriff’s Office, an arm of the city’s Department of Finance, is officially authorized to inspect stores that sell cigarettes or tobacco, to ensure compliance with tax and licensing requirements. The city regulations establishing its powers haven’t been updated to include cannabis.
There may be a much more fundamental legal catch at work, however. While official press releases treat “unlicensed” and “illegal” as basically synonymous, many of the unlicensed dispensaries maintain that they’re actually operating within the law—parsing the meaning of the word “sale.” If no profit is made on the cannabis transfer, and the real money is made on club membership fees, it’s not a “sale” under New York state law. Outlets operating on this model haven’t been touched by the crackdown. The most prominent, Empire Cannabis Clubs, still operates three locations around the city—openly. A bill by Liz Kreuger, the same Manhattan state senator who shepherded through legalization in 2021, would close this “loophole” (a word rejected by the cannabis clubs). But it hasn’t passed yet. Empire Cannabis also pledges that all its products are lab-tested, and that standards are being developed for the unlicensed sector’s self-regulation.
Not Just Cops, But Also Robbers
In addition to the pressure from law enforcement, New York’s unlicensed cannabis operators face another challenge—they’re apparently being targeted by the city’s increasingly audacious criminal element.
On January 18, a worker was shot in the leg in an attempted robbery of the Smoke City store on Ninth Ave. in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Media reports were unclear on whether the establishment was selling cannabis or just pipes, papers and such. But it was only the most recent of three such incidents that month. On January 4, an employee was shot in the lower back and gravely injured during an attempted robbery of Exotic Convenience smoke shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The shop was apparently selling bud and edibles as well as paraphernalia and is located on Clinton Street, a neighborhood hub for unlicensed cannabis sales. And on January 11, the Rainbow Smoke Shop on Sixth Ave in Greenwich Village was the scene of stick-up by two robbers, one brandishing a handgun. Nobody was hurt, but the duo got away with an estimated $1,800 in cannabis candy, and some $600 in cash.
Is Gov. Hochul Keeping Her Equity Pledge?
Meanwhile, the unfolding of the still very limited licensed market has also met with various controversies that are slowing things down. On one hand, advocates are accusing Gov. Hochul of betraying her promises on social equity in the licensed market. A little more than a year ago, Hochul announced that those who had been impacted by a past cannabis-related criminal conviction in New York State would be the first to get retail licenses. Yet the state’s first licensed dispensary which opened December 29, at a primo location on Broadway and Astor Place in the East Village, is run by a nonprofit organization, Housing Works. It does indeed do good work, advocating for housing and healthcare for people living with HIV-AIDS. However, 28 holders of licenses slated for entrepreneurs with past pot convictions were still stuck in what The City news site called a “bureaucratic holding pattern.” Specifically, the Office of Cannabis Management was tweaking its regulations on what kind of storefronts they could lease—and applicants complained about lack of communication and clarity.
At the same time, plans to open a first dispensary in Harlem are being held up by a legal challenge brought by a neighborhood business alliance. The 125th Street Business District Management Association brought suit in state court on April 26, seeking to block the opening of an outlet on West 125th Street, across from the historic Apollo Theatre—Harlem’s cultural heart. The challenge argues that the process regulators use to choose dispensary locations is improperly opaque.
“This is a naked, intentional and bold attempt to avoid community opposition,” the lawsuit charges. It argues that the 125th Street location is “irredeemable,” saying it would add to the crime, congestion and “open drug use” already upsetting merchants in the area.
Brooklyn Back in The Game—For Now
In some good news for would-be entrepreneurs, the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan on March 28 narrowed a temporary restraining order that had blocked licensed dispensaries from certain designated areas of New York state. The appeals court ruling allows dispensaries to finally open in Brooklyn, as well as the Mid-Hudson region, Central New York and Western New York (including the state’s second city, Buffalo). The Finger Lakes region remains barred, for the moment. This means 108 dispensary licenses in those administrative regions no longer under the injunction may finally start to move ahead. But 18 licenses in the Finger Lakes remain in legal limbo.
The case was brought by a would-be entrepreneur with a past cannabis conviction in Michigan, who argued that New York’s equity measures favoring those only with in-state convictions violate the US Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. However, many smelled a ploy by out-of-state money to break into the Empire State’s lucrative market—even if it means undermining the state’s equity program.
And while this case remains pending, there are other legal challenges in the works. A group called the Coalition for Regulated & Safe Access to Cannabis brought suit in state court on March 16 against the Office of Cannabis Management. The coalition represents large outfits already licensed in New York under the medical marijuana program and now seeking to enter the adult-use market. The complaint charges that the equity program is unconstitutional and contributes to “neglect of the medical program.” The coalition is calling on the state to immediately open licenses to the public at large—with no priority for those impacted by past prohibition—and to crack down on unlicensed operators.
As of now, there are only nine licensed dispensaries operating statewide—five in New York City (four in Manhattan and one in Queens), and one each in Albany, Schenectady, Binghamton and Ithaca. So, crackdown notwithstanding, the licensed sector still has a very long way to go to catch up with the unlicensed guerilla capitalists—and the obstacles still abound.
A growing chorus of dog parents are complaining about the scourge of joint roaches littered on New York City streets, less than six months into adult-use cannabis sales.
KTLA 5 reports that dog parents and veterinarians are concerned about dogs eating littered roaches throughout New York City, which they say is a public nuisance.
Dr. Amy Attas, a New York City veterinarian, told KTLA 5 that she’s been getting more and more calls about concerned dog parents when their dogs sniff up and eat roaches left on the sidewalk.
“The reason we’re seeing so many cases is that people are using marijuana on the street and then discarding the unwanted ends of their joints,” Attas said. “And that’s a real problem because dogs will eat those.”
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, (APCC) recreational drugs including cannabis are part of the organization’s annual list of top toxins for pets, which was announced during National Poison Prevention Week last March 19-25.
In 2022, the APCC team received nearly 11% more calls related to potential cannabis ingestion than in the year before, and they have seen a nearly 300 percent increase in calls over the past five years. “To me, it is unbelievable how prevalent this now is,” said Attas.
According to the APCC, most calls involve pets ingesting edibles which are more dangerous than ingesting plant material, sometimes combined with ingredients like chocolate, another dog toxin. Eating edibles can result in symptoms such as stomach upset, urinary incontinence, and ataxia in pets like dogs.
Colleen Briggs is one of the dog parents in New York who is concerned about roaches on the sidewalk, after her 8-month-old toy poodle ate some cannabis. “He was just doing his usual—exploring everything, sniffing everything,” Briggs told KTLA 5.
Sue Scott, whose 9-month-old pug ate a roach, is also concerned. “I don’t know if you know pugs—they’re constantly on the lookout for their next morsel,” said Scott. “But sometimes it’s pretty tough to control them because they are so fast. They’ll just dart at something.”
Dr. Helen Rudnick of Austin Urban Vet toldHigh Times in 2018 that anecdotal reports suggest CBD can be beneficial for dogs. One claim is that CBD can be helpful for dogs suffering from seizures, as it has been reported in children.
Professional British Boxer Anthony Fowler, for instance, posted a video of a dog having a seizure and how fast CBD oil stopped the dog from shaking. Another viral video shows CBD oil stopping a seizure in another dog in less than one minute.
In 2022, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) launched a petition against Idaho’s ban on CBD for animals. The NASC believes CBD bans are more dangerous because CBD products need certificates of analysis and need to be vetted under a regulatory program.
There are several ways to salvage the weed leftover in a joint roach.
You can make a grandfather joint, using emptied out roaches and re-rolling several of them into a new joint. The cannabis left in roaches typically contains extra resin that is collected while the original joint was smoked.
First or second generation roach joints are best, though some users say they’ve smoked five-generation roach joints before. Another option is getting a roach clip so you can smoke all the way to the end.
Another option is to make roach butter, or infuse the leftover weed into a butter using the same general guidelines you’d use with unused cannabis. Most likely the weed has already been partially decarboxylated.
If you don’t want to smoke roach weed, then throw it out somewhere so that it won’t end up on the sidewalk where dogs will inevitably sniff them down and eat them up.
Happy belated 4/20 y’all! I hope you enjoyed the special print version of the Cop List that went up last week. That one originally ran in the magazine but I figured since it was the holiday, and I didn’t want to rush a new one out just yet, that was a safe one to let rip. We could call it 35.5 – it was intended to have a more national feel, focusing on products rather than dank specifically, but I’m not pretending that was a suitable replacement for this month. We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Last week, for the second year in a row, players from across the country (and globe, even) descended on New York City to celebrate our favorite holiday. Just like last year, this was another one for the record books. Between the East Coast’s Zalympix unbelievable showing at Terminal 5, to First Smoke of the Day’s Family Ties Brunch, Zushi’s Lower East Side Pop-Up Store, to the classic Washington Square Park celebration, I’m still trying to recover from the marathon of events that went on across the city. We sesh’d in an abandoned mall in Chinatown, ate insane meals at 2:30 AM regularly, and even watched them film a scene for the new Penguin show for HBO Max. It was pretty excellent by just about every measure.
So, in honor of the trip, #36 is compiled entirely of dank I found last week while stumbling around the city and it’s various events. I mentioned on social a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to bring any bud with me on the trip, and the city more than provided. Shouts out to all the homies that came up to me throughout the week with some flavors to try, or just some kind words about our efforts over here. I was not expecting as many of you to recognize me as you did, and I’ll be honest, the love you showed in the city that raised me was incredibly special. Thank you. Also to Sasso – appreciate your hospitality as always my guy!
Like usual, you don’t gotta be a stranger. Finding the flame takes a village, and I want to hear what’s getting you up too. Hit me on just about any platform here: @joncappetta
I’ve been hearing rumblings about this guy for awhile now, so imagine my surprise when I run into bro on the other side of the country, outside the Player’s Ball – I mean, the First Smoke of the Day Brunch. My homie CGO (who you’ll hear more about soon) was talking to him while I was waiting for the car, and called me over to check it out. While there are a lot of people growing great weed right now, I could immediately see why so many heads were pointing me in that direction. These flowers are special. Although I only got to check out their Pink Lemonade, which was clearly outstanding, I’m declaring right now that I’m going to make a dedicated trip to wherever they are once I get back to California to stick my nose in more of their bags.
I’m not going to lie, I’m abnormally rooting for these hometown heroes. Cultivating out on Long Island, where I spent most of my formative years, not only are these guys sweethearts, but the flower they’re cultivating really shows they not only know what they’re doing, but that they care about the details. They got a trophy at the East Coast Zalympix for having the Heaviest Hitting cut in the competition, with their rendition of Cap Junky, but it was their Biscotti – which I’m affectionately referring to as the ‘Barbecue cut’ because the nose has these hints of almost woody-ness that reminds me of an outdoor BBQ (not the chip flavor) – that really hooked me. I’ve smoked a LOT of Biscotti in my day, and it’s an excellent strain to begin with, but this rendition rekindled that obsession with what feels like a whole new swag.
Another true New York brand, All Kings were a totally new name for me, but boy am I glad we met. Actually grown in the state, they had two cuts to show me: their OG and a ‘Grape Head’. While the OG was definitely a dope varietal, it was the Grape Head that I’ve got to let you know about. This had exactly the nose you’d expect from a cut with grape in it’s name, but the taste of the smoke gave pure grapeade, which I wasn’t expecting. I’m talking that sweet artificial grape flavor, and just like the OG cut this one seriously drooped my eyelids.
A new discovery from the homies at Good Pizza and his breeding partner Exotiks916, I’m really excited about this stash of Torrone I got blessed with last week. Although these guys are based out West now, GP’s a native New Yorker like me, and about as Italian as they come, so all of his cultivars have some sort of Italian American theme – like his initial Carmela, affectionately named after the Sopranos matriarch. This new cut, named after the honey almond treat popular in the motherland, is delicious. While I have no idea how much it actually smells like the dessert, it’s got this wonderful pine-y menthol nose that I can’t get enough of, and it smokes like a dream.
This is another one whose name had reached me before the flower, and I’m happy to report that from my perspective, the hype here is real. The second chapter in the Book Club Cannabis’ story (although I admittedly missed the first one), Osi illustrated to me that this is truly a connoisseur driven brand, with a cut that hits from pretty much every angle. And while you often hear me rave about the nose and flavor, it was really the effect on this one that shined. It genuinely felt heavy – which is appropriate, as it was on Trevy’s page that I saw it first. It’s worth acknowledging here that basically anytime Trev says something’s worth checking out, you should listen.
If you’ve read even one of these in the past you’re likely aware I’m a big fan of Doja and the flower he brings to market. I’ve raved about several cultivars, as well as his parties, but perhaps his most impressive move yet has been the developments he’s made out of state. While having pumped out some truly next level gear out of Michigan already, his latest collaboration with The Mechanic in New York has me super geeked. You see, The Mechanic’s been popping several of Doja’s beans, and while I foolishly missed the tasting party and didn’t get to see the majority of the new cuts, the Cherry Runtz he grew is as good as I’ve ever seen it – Cali or otherwise.
While these guys are not from New York, they’re also not from Dallas. Well, at least not that Dallas. Hailing out of Oregon, these guys pride themselves on cultivating ‘uncommon cannabis’ and I’ve got to say, they’re true to their tagline. I got to see four different varietals from them, and while they were all delicious tasting, both their Pure Michigan and Strawberry Driver were worth writing home about. My favorite of the crop was definitely the Michigan cut, as it had this weird almost cheese kush nose on it. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it’s a descendent of Mendo Breath, and the flavor is consistent, so if you remember that, add just a bit of sweetness to it. What’s not to love?
Another out-of-towner in for the holiday that I met this trip was Surf’s Up Exotics, and they had their new star, ‘The Wave,’ in tow. I instantly saw what they were excited about, as both the nose and look of these buds were certainly top tier. That said, it was actually the flavor of the Wave that ultimately hooked me. Though the nose was initially a sort of minty runtzy expression, this one’s got an almost licorice undertone in the smoke, and it gets stronger as the joint progresses. It’s just a delightful smoking experience you’ll continue to crave long after it’s cashed. The high’s pretty great too, and not as drag-y as you’d expect from something that dark and candy, but the flavor!
I can’t complete this list without mentioning the big winner of the East Coast showdown, Gotti. Bringing home the 1st place trophy for the best overall, 1st place for best tasting, and 3rd place for best smell, their Zkittlez x Zoap selection deserves all the praise it’s receiving. I will admit this is my first time hearing of these guys, so while they’re clearly off to a great start, this is a brand I will certainly be keeping a close eye on as the market develops. Their flower smelled exactly how you’d expect it to, but the judges were right to award it so high on flavor – it’s probably the most delicious tasting smoke from a Zoap cross I’ve ever tried.
Out of all the new brands I met last week, this one was probably the most unexpected, and weirdly exciting out of the bunch. Dubbed Conchiss, this guy’s got some really good weed, but it’s the uniqueness of the whole experience that really resonated with me here. With insane cultivar names like ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ (shouts to the Dr.) and ‘Cape Cod Saltwater Taffy’, it was his ‘Pineapple Chroma’ that stopped the show for me. With a true pineapple nose that also holds this weird menthol behind it, this was one of the best tasting new flavors I found this trip. I didn’t dislike the crazy sounding strains either, but the Pineapple, man… there’s some real magic there.
Now I can’t front and pretend this is the first time I’ve heard of DeLisioso. Founded by America’s longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner Richard DeLisi, and his son Rick, DeLisioso is the American Dream version of turning lemons into lemonade. Launching the brand less than a year after Richard was freed, this was my first time getting hands-on with their flower and I’ve got to say, I’m very stoked on what they’re working with. I tried two cultivars (the purple and yellow bag, although they weren’t labeled beyond that) and while they were both delicious, there’s something really special in that yellow bag. I don’t even know how to describe the nose because it’s just so different from the majority of the market right now, but the smoke was incredibly clean and the high motivated me to knock out half of this list immediately!
The countdown has begun. Nearly a century after the inaugural New Year’s Eve celebration in Manhattan’s iconic Times Square, a new countdown is happening on April 20 to commemorate—and celebrate—New York’s first 420 in the legal market. The trailblazing event is a collaboration between European cannabis seed producer Royal Queen Seeds and Cannabis Now, with the support of Honeysuckle Media and Omnichanel Outdoor, demonstrating cannabis’ global expansion.
The official Royal Queen Seeds Times Square “Cannabis Is Legal” countdown celebration begins on April 20 at 3:30 pm with a countdown leading up to 4:20 pm.
“We have so much to celebrate, and there’s no better place for a countdown than Times Square,” Shai Ramsahai, CEO of Royal Queen Seeds, says. “This 4/20, we’re excited to celebrate how growers, both in their industrial crops and now their own homes have the freedom to grow in the US.”
Since 1907, hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to New York City’s most famous neighborhood, Times Square, to be part of the excitement, creating a festive and electric atmosphere for New Year’s Eve celebrations. The energy of the crowd, the bright lights and the anticipation of the Ball Drop make Times Square a unique and famous destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations, and the event has become deeply entrenched in popular culture. But unlike the traditional year-end celebrations in the heart of the Big Apple, The One Times Square Billboard will be ablaze with a once-unimaginable cannabis countdown.
The milestone is more than just a celebration of the unofficial cannabis holiday. Rather, it reflects the changing public opinion of cannabis legalization and is an empirical reflection of the changing cannabis landscape, like the dawn of a new era.
“For more than a decade, Cannabis Now has promoted the industry via our national magazine, our website and at numerous live events,” Eugenio Garcia, CEO of Cannabis Now, says. “Joining with Royal Queen Seeds in New York’s Times Square, is a historic moment to demonstrate that cannabis has expanded globally and it’s perfect to celebrate this at the heartbeat of the world, Times Square.”
Join the party at One Times Square at 3.30 pm and celebrate the 420 countdown with joints and revelry to mark the historic occasion.
Writer’s note: Lately I’ve been getting invited to shows and events that… well, would have made my teenage self do backflips. In an effort to share more cultural significance with you all, I’ll occasionally post “Snaps’” highlighting these events, shows or projects for you to attend, or at least get a glimpse of, no matter where you happen to be physically.
If you’re in L.A., or can get here in the next few weeks, you absolutely have to check out the new Basquiat exhibition at The Grand LA, “King Pleasure.” Curated by his sisters and nieces, “King Pleasure” is a collection of rarely before seen work by the iconic artist, from his sketchbook doodles to more traditional fine art from throughout his education, on display now in Los Angeles after a highly successful run back in New York City.
Whether you’ve been a fan since back when he was doing the work, or you’re just joining the team now, “King Pleasure” is going to present Jean-Michel in a way you’ve never seen before. Recreating both his studio and his childhood living room within the expansive four gallery show, the depth of his creativity is really on display here. While you’ll see countless works in his signature style, you’ll also learn his abilities reached far past what some consider to be more abstract art pieces.
A few weeks back I had the chance to visit the show before it opened with my friend, and an iconic artist in his own right, Joey Colombo. As we navigated through the expansive collection that ranged from actual doodles to theater-sized canvases, I know I speak for both of us when I say our eyes were opened to just how incredible Basquiat’s life and work truly were. From getting to step inside his living studio, to admiring the improvised canvas he’d create to get an idea out, the artistry on display extends far beyond the work most of us are already familiar with. And some of it is GIGANTIC. The final gallery, which holds the pieces he made for the Palladium, will likely make you feel smaller than any other canvas work you’ve seen in the past. When it clicks that someone the same size as you did all that, and not some giant, it’s stunning. And they’re each a single canvas!
The show is about more than just the work though. It’s truly a celebration of his life. Complete with maps of New York City and Los Angeles pinpointing the places he grew up and found himself, as well as the hotspots he frequented, there’s a special type of intimacy here. You get to peruse his collection of keepsakes from around the world, and the notes in his sketchbook. I don’t know if I’ve seen ANY show offer this much insight into an artist’s being. You can see firsthand the things that were important to him. In the recreated studio you can feel his process. It’s really quite remarkable.
The New York Times wrote that the show “creates an emotional impact that’s hard to shake,” and TimeOut New York called it their “favorite exhibit of the year.”
For another actual artist’s perspective, Joey told me “[the] show was exciting and inspiring.. it got my creative juices flowing!”
In addition to work by Basquiat, the show also has several of Warhol’s originals, including his iconic portrait of Jean-Michel, as well as those of his family—including Jeanine, this show’s curator.
On display through July, don’t miss your chance to experience these rarely and never before seen works, through the lens of his actual family. There’s over 200 of them, and there’s truly something for everybody. You can get your King Pleasure tickets here.
Living in New York City for these past 13 years has allowed me to see the city evolve up close. The five boroughs’ evolution, or at least some components, happens much quicker than some may think. One of those rapidly changing landscapes has been the cannabis scene.
The city continues to embrace the plant in all its forms further, that is unless you are an unlicensed shop. The predominantly warm welcome from the city certainly stems from its share of social equity and restorative justice advocates. But a significant chunk of the support comes from those who see the revenue in legalization. Sales make up just a chunk of what cannabis can bring to the city and state. Tourism is booming already, with a flurry of underground events and places to take in. Legal experiences are also taking shape, not just in one-off or pop-up varieties.
The House of Cannabis (THC NYC), a three-story immersive cannabis experience, aims to be the city’s next tourism fixture. Spanning across 30,000 square feet of a historic building overlooking SoHo, THC NYC is the co-creation of Las Vegas nightclub leader Robert Frey, Co-founder Marcelle Frey, and Creative Director Dan Kough.
I was invited to check out the place before its launch on April 7th. After living in New York all these years, I was intrigued to find out if The House of Cannabis would be another flash-in-the-pan tourist exhibit or if it could become the next unique city sight to take in.
Would tourists start seeing cannabis as a must-see stop while in town? And even more importantly, would this appeal to the cannabis community? There’s only on way to find out.
What to Expect at The House of Cannabis
The first thing I noticed about The House of Cannabis was that its signature was loud and proud on the first floor of the building. Like many unlicensed cannabis shops, this was another example of New York’s stepping out of the cannabis closet with full force. One minor drawback I noticed soon after stepping in was that THC NYC isn’t on the first floor. Instead, it required a five-floor walk-up to start the journey. There may have been an elevator, but I was told to walk up.
Heads up, pot enthusiasts, weed isn’t sold at THC NYC, nor is consumption allowed. So be sure to smoke up before stepping inside.
Kough, a seven-year veteran at Disney and decades in entertainment, headed up the project’s design. As part of operating in a historic building, he and the creative team were tasked with conceiving an immersive experience that could not affect the historic walls or otherwise impact the building structure. To do so, the team built THC NYC’s walls inside the historic frame without touching the structure’s existing walls.
“That’s when we decided to build the building within the building,” Kough explained. He added that the solution helped create an effect on guests.
From there, the crew spent months assembling visuals for guests. They also created a striking reminder for folks walking by at night. The outer hallway walls are painted in a pot lime green and illuminated by matching lights each night, creating an ever-glowing green presence through the windows.
The Journey Begins
Spread across three floors, the tour’s first stop is The Disorientation Room, where you’re surrounded by bright green as media plays out on a massive projector spanning the long history of the plant and its impact on culture. This is when my persisting thought begins to take shape: I wish I had done psychedelics before coming here.
The desire for psychedelics grew more powerful in the next room. As we head into The Euphorium, guests run into a giant rotating record as LED lights above pulse to the sounds of a silent disco. Guests are encouraged to sit up or lay down on the rotating record while listening to the silent disco. This room made me concerned about what was ahead. While it could be a fun experience for some, I felt like a piece of rotisserie looking up at the ceiling while slowly spinning. But maybe that’s just me. Thankfully, that was the only time I felt iffy about the experience.
The later rooms on the floor cover the social and criminal justice impact the plant has had in recent years. The Forum, guided by the assistance of the Drug Policy Alliance, uses sleek audio techniques to highlight the impact the drug wars had on five different individuals. When standing under sound cones, you hear the person’s first-hand account. When stepping out from under the cones, their stories blend to represent the drug war’s collective impact on society.
“They’re real people telling real stories of how they’ve been affected by cannabis laws,” Kough said.
The final room on the floor was The Joint, which covered the world of sneakers. The group brought in works from a current art exhibit from Culver City, California, The Art of Sneakers, featuring a range of artists putting sneakers to use in various unique ways. Artists featured in The House of Cannabis include Freehand Profit, Christophe Roberts and many more.
Kough said that the plan is to feature art for six months before bringing in a new exhibit for the space.
The Plant – A 6000-Year Journey
Heading down to the third floor takes visitors to an up-close grow experience, or at least that is the plan when things start. Once the venue officially opens to the public, the space will feature a three-room urban grow to give visitors a first-hand look at pot cultivation. No mature plants or seedlings were present during the tour.
The plant education continues in The Microverse, where photographer Chris Romaine of Kandid Kush, takes visitors deep into the plant with striking photography. In the Olfactory, we learn about terpenes. Featuring six of the most common sensations associated with cannabis–lost, laughter, energy, sleep, creativity and calm–guests are surrounded by colors are aromas associated with each compound. To experience more, guests can push a button to take in a terpene’s aroma. It wasn’t set up that day, but a drop-down curtain is expected to be installed, providing additional immersion into a terpene’s fragrance. Rounding out the room was additional art, including a several-foot-tall nug dangling from the middle of the room.
The last stop on this floor featured a collaboration with hip-hop musician Curren$y. A custom poem from the artist is projected onto an LED screen where guests can step onto the screen and see the words wrapped around them.
Kough said it was important to “Celebrate the poetry of cannabis in our lives” while allowing guests to feel like they’ve become part of the artist’s words.
The Journey Crescendos
The final floor on the journey at The House of Cannabis features just two stops but is likely to be crowd-pleasers. They’re certainly two places I’d like to be in as the shrooms kick in.
The Spot is a massive green tree installation with roots running across the floor, serving as seats and tables.
“The great thing about cannabis is the sense of community it organically creates,” Kough said.
For me, The Spot took me back to my kindergarten days, when we’d all gather under the tree at recess and play tag. That is until we discovered a bunch of invasive moths had taken over the tree. Thankfully, no moths were seen at The House of Cannabis.
The last stop on the tour is The Hypnodrome. Created by visual artist, composer and programmer Benjamin Gordon, guests sit back on soft lounge chairs as a psychedelic video of Gordon’s brain waves unfolds on the ceiling and walls around you. The AI-based art display stood as the most psychedelic room and the place where I’d most likely want to be during a psychedelic experience.
Will The House of Cannabis in New York Last?
Overall, THC NYC was a fun, educational experience. If you’re already adequately versed in cannabis, none of what’s presented will come as new information. But this is the kind of place educated pot fans can take their friends for a memorable day out. They may even learn a few things about cultivation, culture, criminal justice and how the plant affects us.
“It’s celebrating cannabis culture and inviting people in,” Kough said of the experience. He added that THC NYC aims to help normalize the plant rather than targeting the ardent pot supporters.
“They can come in and see it’s not scary,” he said.
And I’m willing to bet you can still have a good time even if you’re well-versed in pot. With ample art displays and high-quality immersion from Kough and the team, guests get to take in plant knowledge that’s much more interpretive than you would at a museum cannabis exhibit.
Kough said his decades in entertainment compels him to create works that aren’t directly educational.
“With a topic like cannabis that’s so complex and so interesting and so magical, you can’t do it without throwing a little sauce on it,” he said, adding that the goal is to draw people into the wonders of the cannabis plant.
That said, do I think The House of Cannabis could last the entire 10-year run as planned? It’s entirely possible. Kough said the plan is to “change and mutate and grow” the space as cannabis evolves. And if they can adequately keep pace with mainstream America’s pot interests, they surely can hold an audience of at least tourists and casual enthusiasts.
In its current form, I wonder how much of the deeply educated or underground crowd The House of Cannabis attracts. It certainly has the names and organizations attached to provide credibility, but with legal spaces still in their infancy, all bets are off as to what will stick. THC NYC could be right up there in a few years with the nearly decade-old boob bounce house at the Museum of Sex. Or it may fall off. Only time will tell. So, check it out for yourself
Some might call me jaded because, as a long-time writer and resident of New York City, I’ve been invited to cover a lot of super cool openings, product launches, galas and press parties. Been there, done that. So why was it that during a pre-opening soft launch of THC NYC (The House of Cannabis) ahead of the official public opening tomorrow, my jaw was continually dropping to the floor? Truth is, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Their website calls THC NYC a “multi-sensory, transportive experience,” but that’s putting it mildly: The 30,000-square-foot space covers five floors in a gorgeous SoHo loft in Lower Manhattan, and within minutes, I had ambled through a dazzling hall of mirrors, vibed to tunes while taking a ride on a giant turntable, marveled at a series of gallery-like, glow-in-the-dark art installations and chilled in a mini-theater to truly psychedelic mind movies.
Before and after this delightful assault on the senses, I was among hundreds of guests happily congregating in the classic, airy lounge—actually, the penthouse (available for private parties)—with plush furnishings, lounge seating and adorned throughout with various cannabis plants. The place was overflowing with an insanely eclectic mix of New Yorkers high on life; including casually-dressed hipsters, chic models, older sophisticates, not to mention a dash of weed royalty: None other than Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong were in The House of Cannabis.
Inside THC NYC
What follows are a few of the highlights from my jaunt inside THC NYC, which spans multiple floors and features ten exhibitions showcasing art, music, fashion, cultivation and reform.
The fourth floor is a mind-blowing feast for the senses: a multimedia flight through the past, present and future of cannabis called “The Forum,” where you experience an array of artful, historical, celebratory, unjust and iconic moments that cannabis has had on our culture. “We wanted to highlight the social injustice around cannabis, especially in the Black and brown communities,” says The House of Cannabis owner Robert Frey.
Nearby was the “Music” room, a spectacular mash-up of lights featuring a giant turntable, which you can lay on while it spins slowly around as you listen to a mash-up of tunes on headphones. “It’s like a silent disco,” Frey says. Everything does sound better on vinyl.
But in perhaps the highlight among so many highs, I marveled at the Hypnodrome, where you can relax in THC NYC’s amazing studio replica of an indoor park, which encourages people to hang out and chill among a giant sculptural representation of the tree of life, intended to reflect how the cannabis culture creates a beautiful sense of community. You can also levitate to new highs in the mini-theatre, which features spectacular visuals replicating what the brain goes through when you’re high. We all just sat back in the amazingly comfy lounge chairs and were blown away as we immersed in the brain’s perspective.
Though it’s still under construction, there will also be a spectacular cultivation area (“The Growing Room”) which is described on the destination’s website as “New York’s first-ever urban grow—a higher education of the lifecycle of the plant at each stage of growth.”
THC NYC, The House of Cannabis, opens tomorrow, April 7. For tickets, visit thcnyc.com.
Chris Alexander, the executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, said that “the approval of these licenses will help expedite building a robust and diverse supply chain while also ensuring that individuals that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition have meaningful opportunities to participate in the industry.”
Wright thanked New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and members of the state legislature in Albany “for helping us reach this day,” and noted that the “new licenses will allow entrepreneurs to fairly participate in the legal market while promoting innovation and creative diversity throughout New York’s ever-growing cannabis supply chain.”
The Cannabis Control Board said in a press release on Monday that the “licenses included four for Western New York, one for Central New York, five for MidHudson, and three for Brooklyn, marking the first provisional licenses to be issued in these regions following last week’s modification of a court injunction that had prevented the Board from issuing them.”
The board explained the application process: “License applications will continue to be sent to the Board for consideration on a rolling basis. To be eligible, applicants themselves were required to either have had a cannabis conviction or be the family member of someone who has and have owned a profitable business. Nonprofits were eligible if they had a history of serving current or formerly incarcerated individuals, including creating vocational opportunities for them; have at least one justice-involved board member; at least five full-time employees; and have operated a social enterprise that had net assets or profit for at least two years.”
New York launched its adult-use cannabis market late last year with the opening of a retailer in New York City’s East Village neighborhood.
Other dispensaries have opened in Manhattan since then, while the first legal dispensary in Queens opened late last month, but Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, has so far been left out due to a court-ordered ban last year.
The Cannabis Control Board said on April 3 that, to date, it has “granted at least one [Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or “CAURD”] provisional license in each region other than the Finger Lakes, which remains blocked by the injunction.”
The CAURD license “is a central pillar of the Seeding Opportunity Initiative,’ the board said, noting that the initiative ensures that “New York’s first legal adult-use retail dispensaries will be
operated by those most impacted by the enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit
organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated.”
“As stated in the MRTA, marijuana laws had disproportionately impacted African-American and
Latinx communities. For the past 30 years, Black individuals in New York have been 15 times
more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses than their white counterparts. For Latinos, it was 8 times more likely. These arrests perpetuated a cycle of poverty in Black and Brown communities. Accordingly, the criteria for obtaining a CAURD license included having been impacted by the enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis,” the board said in Monday’s press release.
“We are thrilled to announce the addition of 99 more CAURD provisional licenses as we
continue to work swiftly and equitably to establish New York’s cannabis industry,” said Alexander.
A federal court in New York on Tuesday cleared the way for state regulators to begin issuing adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses to prospective business owners in Brooklyn and elsewhere.
The New York Times reports that the the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan “lifted part of an injunction that prevented cannabis regulators from issuing licenses for recreational dispensaries in some parts of New York, removing a major obstacle for the state’s rollout.”
“The court’s decision allows regulators to issue 108 dispensary licenses in the regions that are no longer under the injunction: Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson and Brooklyn. But 18 licenses in the Finger Lakes region remain tied up in the lawsuit,” the Times explains.
“New licenses could be approved as soon as Monday, April 3, when the Cannabis Control Board holds its monthly meeting. At least 18 licenses in the affected regions have been ready for approval since November, the Office of Cannabis Management said at the time.”
New York launched its regulated adult-use cannabis market late last year with the opening of a licensed retailer in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood.
“The removal of the injunction paves the way for dispensaries to open in some of the state’s most populous areas, including Buffalo, Syracuse and the Hudson Valley, giving farmers and manufacturers — who have been sitting on a mountain of inventory — more places to sell their weed. But getting from licensing to opening is a process that can take several months. Since November, regulators have issued dispensary licenses to 56 businesses and 10 nonprofit groups. So far, only five stores have opened, in Manhattan, Ithaca and Binghamton; two more are scheduled to open this week, in Queens and Schenectady.”
“With this expansion, more entrepreneurs will be able to participate in the first wave of this industry, allowing them to capitalize on the growing demand for cannabis products,” Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York Cannabis Control Board, said at the time. “As more businesses enter this market, the innovation and competition will increase, leading to better quality experiences for consumers. The expansion of New York’s cannabis market will benefit everyone involved in this exciting industry.”
That weed shop, known as Good Grades, will begin as a pop-up.
“I am thrilled to be opening the doors of Good Grades, the very first dispensary in Queens, New York,” said Good Grades owner Extasy James.
“We are incredibly passionate about providing greater access to cannabis and breaking down the barriers that prevent so many people, especially those from marginalized communities, from experiencing the benefits of this amazing plant. We understand firsthand the stigma that has been attached to cannabis for far too long, and we are eager to join the thriving cannabis community to help change that. Our dispensary is a welcoming and inclusive space where anyone can come to learn, explore, and find the products that are best suited to their unique needs.”