The first legal cannabis dispensary in New York owned by an entrepreneur who had been previously criminalized by cannabis prohibition opened in Manhattan Tuesday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Software engineer Irving Rabel of Wyandanch walked into the just-opened Smacked Village marijuana dispensary Tuesday in Manhattan, ordered an $81 Tropical Runtz weed pen from an iPad-wielding staffer, and left possessing what just a few years ago would have been illegal.

“This is a disposable pen. You just pull it and you throw it away when you’re done,” said Rabel, 27, holding the green-hued box promising 85% THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component — with “uplifting” and “social” effects.

Rabel was among the first-day customers of the dispensary, the second to open legally and the first under a state program to give preference for operating licenses to those with criminal convictions for marijuana, or their families.

The program was designed, according to the state, to help those “justice involved individuals” who disproportionately suffered the consequences of the War on Drugs. Licensees must meet other qualifications, too, such as having owned a profitable business for at least two years.

The individuals' dispensaries are backed by loans from the state and private organizations.

Smacked Village's proprietor is Roland Conner, 50, who grew up in a housing project in Far Rockaway, Queens, and was convicted in the early 1990s for marijuana sales and possession. He now lives in New Jersey.

“You see how easy it is to smoke cannabis right now? Imagine back then, when you just wanted to smoke weed, and then, you know, you would get locked up for that. That doesn’t even make sense right now. It didn’t make sense back then, but they had laws against it,” said Conner, who is in business with his son, Darius.

Smacked, which is on Bleecker Street, will operate as a pop-up store until Feb. 20, and then in an estimated eight weeks, open once again — for pickup and delivery. 

The first legalized retail shop selling recreational marijuana opened late last month, a few blocks northeast. It's run  by Housing Works, described by a news release from Gov. Kathy Hochul's office 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 in New York — which became the 15th state to legalize it — is meant to reinvest revenue in nonwhite communities affected by the drug wars.

As of 4:20 p.m. Tuesday — business was brisk at Smacked, Conner said. He didn’t have the day’s thus-far totals — he was busy working the sales floor, “making sure that we’re running a smooth operation, making sure no shenanigans is going on” — but is eagerly awaiting the weekend rush in Greenwich Village, home to dozens of bars, pubs and other venues all within a few blocks, plus New York University.

Word had already spread to NYU students like Todd Baker, 29, and Blake Lapin, 26, who are both working toward master’s degrees in public administration. Baker bought two-eighths, Lapin, a pre-roll.

“This is the first dispensary that was opened by someone who has a prior pot conviction, which was a priority in the rollout of legalization in New York, and I was curious to see that in action, because that was important to me,” Baker said.

Just before sunset, buyers were still coming and going from the nondescript storefront, which has no sign but does have frosted windows and security guards stationed outside and in. A clerk checked IDs to make sure buyers were at least 21. 

By the cash registers, Conner said, a bestseller appeared to be weed lemon-ginger gummies/edibles, and of course, traditional buds: “The flower’s been selling pretty good too.”

With Sarina Trangle

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