A Schenectady marijuana shop slated to start sales next month is poised to become the first legal cannabis store in upstate New York.
Don Andrews, 34, always dreamed of having a marijuana dispensary.
His Upstate CBD store opened on Union Street in the Electric City in 2019, and is in the process of becoming Upstate Canna Co. in the coming weeks to expand to recreational cannabis customers.
"I love cannabis because it helped me in many different ways, and I know a lot of people who it's helped drastically," Andrews said.
Recreational marijuana became legal in New York for people aged 21 and older under the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) — signed into law March 31, 2021.
Andrews, a Schenectady native, is working hard on the finishing touches to sell cannabis flower, edibles and other products and make his dreams a reality.
"It actually feels great to be, you know, part of the legal cannabis world — the cannabis market," he said Friday. "I'm looking forward to, you know, moving forward with the process."
The state Office of Cannabis Management prioritized its Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary licenses for people with prior marijuana-related offenses, and experience owning and operating a business in the state.
Andrews, who had several prior marijuana convictions in his teens and 20s, received his conditional license in November. Black New Yorkers have been 15 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white New Yorkers, and eight times more likely than Latinos, over the last three decades, according to OCM.
"They did a great job paving the way for individuals like myself and small business owners to be able to jump right into the, you know, the legal market before the MSOs and big companies," Andrews said.
Andrews owns two other stores in Schenectady County, including VapedCity Smokeshop in Scotia and a CBD location in Glenville.
Three dispensaries are on track to open in the coming months in the Capital Region, including two others in Albany.
Andrews' store will offer delivery, as well as in-person shopping or pick-up when it starts recreational marijuana sales.
Ryan McCall, a cannabis law attorney with Tully Rinckey, says dispensary staff will have to be careful to double check delivery recipients.
"It's really just a matter of making sure that you're delivering to the right people, right, making sure that the people who are paying are the people who are picking up," he said. "...The state has been rolling out guidelines which have made things a little bit clearer, but it's always just those last-minute things to make sure. We're all excited, they're all ready to open up, but we just want to make sure we're doing it the right way."
Consumers will upload photos of their driver's license or other government identification to make an order, which is checked upon delivery.
Andrews says he'll source his marijuana strains and various products from the Capital Region and upstate areas.
He's eager to both educate and help customers in his hometown while bringing equity to a new industry.
"I want to make sure that local tax stays right in the city of Schenectady where I'm from," he said. "I want to give back to the community where I'm from and where I grew up.
"...That's what we're here for: To get people that education, a proper education, knowing that they can come here and buy a safe, lab-tested product and they wouldn't have any concern about any harmful substances that's in it," Andrews added.
The state Office of Cannabis Management has approved 60 provisional licenses so far for dispensaries in the state, with 15 of those upstate. Two have submitted additional insurance and detailed business plan information to OCM and are waiting for their licenses to be finalized.
Retail dispensary licenses continue to be suspended in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, the Mid-Hudson region and Brooklyn after an injunction issued as part of a federal lawsuit last fall. The state appealed the decision and to limit the suspension to the Finger Lakes, but it awaits a decision in a higher court.
The state's first legal recreational marijuana sales started in New York City just before the new year.