Legal recreational cannabis has arrived in upstate New York as the first legal dispensary opened in the city of Binghamton on Friday.

The opening of Just Breathe — the state's first legal marijuana dispensary outside New York City — marks a historic day as the rollout of the state's recreational cannabis industry takes off.

The dispensary sells a variety of marijuana flower, edibles and other products grown and processed in New York.

Operator Damien Cornwell already owned a CBD store, and partnered with the Broome County Urban League to expand to a full cannabis dispensary.

The state Office of Cannabis Management prioritized its Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary dispensary licenses for people with prior marijuana-related offenses and with experience owning and operating a New York business.

"Now, those folks can be contributing to the tax base, contributing to the state and then create new leaders of tomorrow," Cornwell said. "They're not throwaways, they're great guys. Some of the folks in the illicit market are some of the best businessmen I've ever seen in my entire life."

Cornwell also owns a local radio station and received a grant with plans to open the state's first legal cannabis theater and create more jobs and opportunities for the industry. He added the opening of Just Breathe is part of a larger movement in the community to meet people where they are, integrating cannabis with music, gatherings and to socialize.

"We are righting the wrongs of history in this way," said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Democrat from Binghamton. "It is a very thoughtful process and I have to tell you, there's got to be some hiccups along the way. But look at how far we've come. I want everybody to be patient."

People from near and far traveled to Binghamton on Friday to be some of the first customers to buy legal recreational cannabis in upstate New York.

This industry is exploding in the state after recreational marijuana was legalized for adults 21 and older in March 2021. The first legal sales took place just before New Year's Eve.

People in line discussed what products they were eager to try and how they use marijuana to ease anxiety, relax or enjoy it with friends.

John Wright, 66, of Binghamton, has been smoking marijuana since he was 13 years old, but now uses cannabis to manage chronic neck and leg pain after he suffered serious injuries in a car accident.

He wants people to be open-minded about marijuana and to give it a chance.

"I don't take a pain pill — I'd rather smoke marijuana," he said. 

But black market sales continue to be a concern as dispensaries open up.

Gov. Kathy Hochul included $22 million in her executive budget proposal for the state Office of Cannabis Management to work with local law enforcement and crack down on illicit dispensaries statewide.

"It's certainly a public health issue at the end of the day," OCM spokesman Freeman Klopott said. "Their products are not tested. We don't know what's in them."

Klopott added products sold at legal dispensaries have been thoroughly tested, and the ingredients and quantities of THC must be displayed on the outside label.

But many smokers used to buying cannabis on the street admit it will be a difficult habit to break.

"People was selling bud before it was legal to survive, take care of kids and stuff like that," said longtime marijuana user Joseph Haughton. "Now it's legal, so it's really taking it out of some people's mouths, you know what I'm saying? So it's good and bad."

Three dispensaries are on track to open in the coming months in the Capital Region, including one this month in Schenectady and two others in Albany.

The state Office of Cannabis Management has approved 60 provisional licenses so far for dispensaries in the state, with 15 of those upstate. 

A federal lawsuit making its way through the courts continues to prevent cannabis dispensary licenses from moving forward in Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, the Mid-Hudson region and Brooklyn. 

A federal judge last week ruled against the state's appeal to limit that injunction to just the Finger Lakes.

The timeline is unclear for when a higher court will issue a decision.