Apr 28, 2023
Cannabis Dispensary Planned Near New York’s Apollo Theater Faces Backlash
(Bloomberg) -- A local business group is suing New York state’s cannabis regulator to try to stop a dispensary from opening near services for homeless youths and suspended students on 125th Street in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, citing concerns about rising crime.
The case is the latest bump in New York’s rocky attempts to set up a licensed, legal cannabis market, which has already faced the proliferation of hundreds of unlicensed shops that sell marijuana — often contaminant-ridden or counterfeit — from the illicit market. It raises questions about the cannabis industry’s plan to bring more wealth and jobs to the Black and Latino communities that have disproportionately suffered from cannabis arrests.
In addition to the regulator, the Office of Cannabis Management, the suit targets the undisclosed company that plans to open the dispensary on the storied street also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The location would be near the Apollo Theater — a landmark venue for African American performers — as well as a facility for homeless youth and an office to deal with suspended students. Adding a dispensary would exacerbate problems on an already troubled block of the city, according to the complaint.
The 125th Street Business Improvement District, which brought the suit, said it doesn’t oppose cannabis legalization but sees a dispensary in that location as creating a public health hazard due to the “well-documented spillover effects of cannabis dispensaries that include violent crime, property crimes, pedestrian congestion and cannabis marketing.”
West 125th Street already has a problem with local crime as well as heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the suit said, noting that many of the children who visit the office for student suspensions are there because of drug offenses.
“The placement of this cannabis storefront is a public health danger to the children that must pass by,” the business owners said in the complaint, on their way to schools, community facilities or “Shake Shack, White Castle, Chick-Fil-A, GameStop, Chipotle and more.”
The undisclosed company that plans to open the store at 248 W. 125th St. also owns a building nearby on Lenox Avenue currently leased to a smoke shop that has been the location of several murders, shootings and drug deals, according to the complaint, which alleges secrecy around the dispensary plans.
The Office of Cannabis Management prohibits dispensaries within 500 feet of school grounds, community facilities or houses of worship. Co-defendant the Dormitory Authority has been helping find locations for dispensaries. The regulatory agency said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The Harlem dispensary was in line to become the first licensed retail dispensary in the state last year before the Harlem protests slowed the approval. Instead, the first dispensary went to Greenwich Village.
In a December letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, obtained by Bloomberg News under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the 125th Street Business Improvement District cited concerns about loitering, panhandling and gang rivalries. “I am extremely concerned that your administration seems not to be aware of the challenges we are facing,” the district’s president, Barbara Askins, told Hochul, a Democrat.
With 154 businesses as of 2020, the 125th Street BID is one of the smallest of New York’s 78 business improvement districts, which provide security, sanitation and marketing services to local businesses funded by assessments on property owners and tenants.
Some critics of the cannabis industry have said that, like tobacco, cannabis might create more problems in minority communities by advertising to youth. Data from other states have shown that legalization can come with a mixed bag of unintended consequences, from chronic bronchitis episodes to impaired driving.
New York state has invested millions of dollars in supporting “social equity” plans that attempt to redistribute cannabis wealth, with a licensing program that gives those convicted of cannabis arrests a first shot at dispensary licenses.
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