Written by features writer Jeff Klingman
Legal weed will be available, from a brick-and-mortar storefront in Brooklyn, before the corks pop this New Year’s Eve. There are several strong caveats involved. Cannabis is strictly medicinal in New York State under current regulations, given out by prescription to treat only a very short list of serious medical conditions. It comes in capsules, topicals, losanges, and tinctures. No plant flower, no edibles, nothing that will even remote resemble the booming recreational markets of adult-use states like Oregon, California, or New York’s newly open for business neighbor, Massachusetts.
Citiva’s new dispensary had a soft opening on December 20th, to be followed by a much bigger grand opening celebration early in 2019. It’s the end result of a years-long process that began when the New York cannabis firm received one of only ten active dispensary licenses granted in New York State back in 2016. Theirs will be the first location treating the state-approved patients among Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents with plants grown in the lush Hudson Valley hills of New York’s Orange County.
While the two-year delay from legalization to open shops in Massachusetts seemed to stem from anxious bureaucratic slow-walking, Citiva’s 12-month opening prep process has been more consumed with the run-of-the-mill frustrations faced by any sort of new business opening in New York City. “Massachusetts is a very different bird, that’s for sure,” laughed Amy Holdener, Citiva’s Director of Marketing and Communications.
“Our hurdles and challenges came from finding the right real estate and then getting through your design processes and then getting through your normal inspections when you do construction in large cities. They really were not hurdles unique to the medical marijuana program as they were just your typical location sourcing which was really challenging to find the right location,” says Holdener. “You need a landlord who believes in your business, and you need a local community that is also supportive. We were lucky enough to find that perfect balance with a wonderfully supportive landlord with a vision, we were also able to get the support of our surrounding community and our surrounding businesses.”
That search led Citiva to a final address at 202 Flatbush Avenue in the busy Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, steps from the Barclays Center sports and concert arena and a few blocks away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. At launch, the Brooklyn dispensary will have around 10-12 employees, from the state licensed cannabis pharmacists who’ll fill patient orders, to security folks, and trained patient service representatives who’ll serve an educational role for interested civilians. (Although only prescribed medical patients can leave the location with cannabis products, it’ll be open to the public.) Holdener proudly notes that all positions were filled by native Brooklynites. “It’s very important to us to try to hire directly from our community, and we were fortunate enough to get hundreds of applications for the few positions we have available today,” she says.
Notably, another job they filled was for delivery people. “There are delivery services for almost every need you can think of, there’s no reason that cannabis shouldn’t be one of those things that comes to you,” says Holdener. Given the drought of locations in New York, and the severity of the the conditions on the tight shortlist New York doctors are allowed to treat with cannabis, going to the patients’ doorstep will be a big part of Citiva’s business, motivated more as a benevolent hospice service than catering to busy hipsters.
These are all ground-breaking developments for New York, but Citiva considers the state’s current laws far too restrictive, limited to treating life-altering conditions like AIDS, cancer, PTSD, and chronic pain in a time when the broad benefits of cannabis use seem to multiply with each new study. “We do not believe that a state group or a non medical body should be determining what symptoms or disease states this can be used for,” says Holdener. “Medicine is a relationships between the physician and the patient and therefore we do not feel there should be any restriction for the physician on being able to recommend cannabis to his patients.”
Citiva’s working dutifully within the lines of a tight medical market, for now. But for them, and all of the select few businesses licensed to sell marijuana in New York, the expectation of a full adult use market looms large. It may well come sooner than previously expected.
Coming out of a Gubernatorial campaign in which Andrew Cuomo was aggressively pressed on marijuana legalization by challenger Cynthia Nixon, the reelected governor seems suddenly dead set on legalization. After years of stated skepticism and a tentative, months-long “listening tour” in the summer and fall (attended by Citiva reps, naturally), Cuomo has now explicitly stated that a recreational legalization bill might hit the New York state legislature as soon as January 2019. Furthermore, with both houses of the state legislature now in Democratic control following the 2018 election, there’s a very real chance that New York may soon become the second biggest legal weed market in the U.S.
That larger opportunity factors in heavily to Citiva’s future plans. Holdener was slightly coy when asked, saying they are focused on the medical market until concrete changes come through. But of course, any pre-licensed company would be insane not to consider the leg up they might have being fully vetted and operational if and when all those new products become legal to sell to all those new customers.
“Certainly we would be participating in the adult use market, we look forward to it,” Holdener says. “We should bring this product out of the black market and into the light and allow, not just patients, but anyone in the community access to cannabis products.”
A couple years down the road, “First in Brooklyn” might look pretty good next to a pot-leaf on a T-shirt, too.
Photos courtesy Citiva