The first licensed retail cannabis dispensary in New York opened Thursday, marking the latest step in the nationwide marijuana legalization effort.

The shop is located in Manhattan and operated by Housing Works Cannabis Co., a nonprofit assisting justice-involved individuals. Housing Works will host a press conference with the New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) in the morning before opening the store at the symbolic time of 4:20 p.m.

Sales of recreational marijuana in New York mark a significant milestone for both the state and the nation.

Starting in the 1970s, New York enacted the Rockefeller Drug Laws, named after then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, which included some of the harshest punishments for drug offenses in the U.S. 

Over the following decades, the state gradually moved away from these laws and reformed the way it approached drug policing. The recreational use of marijuana was legalized in New York in March 2021 as part of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act

Now, more than 20 states, along with Washington, D.C. and Guam, have legalized cannabis across the country. During the recent midterm elections, Maryland and Missouri both voted to legalize recreational marijuana, while proposals in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota were rejected. 

In a LinkedIn post last week, the OCM said the New York cannabis market will be the “most equitable and accessible in the nation.”

The emphasis on equity and addressing disparities exacerbated by the War on Drugs has been a deliberate process on the part of New York state leaders since recreational marijuana was legalized. The state was the first to offer initial dispensary licenses solely to business leaders with previous marijuana convictions. 

Tremaine Wright, chair of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, spoke with MM+M in April about what the potential for federal legalization of cannabis would mean for medical cannabis and how communications led by medical marketers are critical to growing the industry.

Medical marketers need to “know and understand what the current law is and to help communicate that message to our public and help to build trust as well as support,” Wright said.

She reiterated her message during the MM+M Transform ‘22 event in May, saying that targeted advertising of information about cannabis, whether in industry publications or on the New York City subway system, can also be effective.

The legal sales of adult-use marijuana in the Empire State come as the Food and Drug Administration is weighing how it will regulate the substance as well as cannabis-derived CBD.