Housing Works Cannabis Co. opens in New York City as the first legal cannibis dispenary in New York State.  The dispenary plans to re-invest profits within New York State to help other issues. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The smell of pot smoke wafted outside 750 Broadway in Manhattan on Thursday just before 4:20 p.m., the cheekily chosen opening time for New York State’s first legalized retail sales of recreational marijuana.

The line — and the smell — snaked down Broadway, across Astor Place, up Lafayette Street and across East Eighth Street as hundreds waited hours to buy legal weed.

“I’m here to see the spectacle, here to buy, also be a part of history. I mean, first legal cannabis dispensary in New York City — it’s pretty cool,” said Will Timpson, 27, who works in advertising, lives in the East Village and is originally from Locust Valley. He’s a self-described “pretty anxious person” who says marijuana relaxes him without the hangover.

In March 2021, New York became the 15th state to legalize the recreational sale of cannabis. On Thursday, the store at 750 Broadway welcomed the first customers in a raucous frenzy of smoking, waiting, cheering and new friendships.

The line outside Housing Works Cannabis Co. on Thursday.

The line outside Housing Works Cannabis Co. on Thursday. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The dispensary — Housing Works Cannabis Co., near Astor Place — is to be open seven days a week. The 4:20 p.m. starting time for first public sales was a flick to the 420 meme in cannabis culture considered an occasion for consumption and celebration of the substance.

A news release from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office described Housing Works as “the nation's largest minority-controlled HIV/AIDS service organization and largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization.”

The law that legalized the sales aims to reinvest the revenue in nonwhite communities affected by the War on Drugs.

At exactly 4:20 p.m., a cheer rose from the crowd to mark the time and occasion.

Catherine McGrath, 21, of Cutchogue, a University of Miami student, was among dozens of would-be patrons behind Timpson and planning to spend perhaps about $100, including on edibles. She’d seen on Instagram that the store was opening Thursday.

“I wanna, like, get a smorgasbord, kind of try it out, see what’s up,” said McGrath, who said she’s cut down on marijuana smoking as of late.

“I have stopped recently smoking every single night, but, yeah, I used to smoke a lot, but now I’ve chilled out,” McGrath said.

The first government-approved sales on Long Island may occur on Shinnecock Indian Nation land in Southampton. The tribe approved regulations governing the cultivation, sale and consumption of recreational cannabis last week. Stores along Montauk Highway may now seek licenses that will allow them to sell marijuana to people who are at least 21 years old.

The state has issued seven retail licenses on the Island. It’s unclear when recipients will launch their operations. Newsday has been able to reach only one of the licensees — Keep it a 100 LLC, launched by a Manhattan couple and two partners. The couple told Newsday they had scoped out potential retail locations in Southampton and hoped to open a dispensary by April.

Technically the first buyer in the state was Chris Alexander, executive director of New York's Office of Cannabis Management, who made a purchase earlier in the morning surrounded by a scrum of reporters and photographers.

The weed being smoked on the line didn’t come from inside.

Rebekah Silva of the Bronx, 26, was smoking a joint — she got it from a friend, she says — and smokes marijuana to ease her arthritis and bipolar disorder.
“I’d been using it quasi-legally,” she said.

She was waiting on line, she estimated, for 4 hours and 20 minutes. 

With Sarina Trangle

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