How the Emergent Cannabis Industry is Infusing New York
On July 5, 1927, New York media got its first injection of reefer madness:
“Mexican Family Go Insane,” the New York Times reported, “Five Said to Have Been Stricken by Eating Marihuana.” The outrageous three-paragraph article tells the tragic tale of a destitute widow in Mexico City who, having recently discovered her husband’s murder, mistook cannabis for a garden herb. Concerned neighbors allegedly heard “outbursts of crazed laughter” coming from the widow’s home, and the Times reported that she and her four young children would never recover. Citing similar claims of hysteria, cannabis was banned across the state that same year.
Now, nearly a century later, New York’s prohibition era has officially ended, making way for a recreational adult-use market that’s already raked in more than $33 million in its first six months despite a stagnated rollout. And while the prospect of making big bucks is a massive draw for many hoping to start up canna-businesses, there’s a growing number of entrepreneurial New Yorkers who are simply passionate about creating new, inclusive conversations about the true power of the plant.
FEATURED IMAGE (TOP)
The House of Cannabis. A pair of museum guests are taken to a different dimension in THC NYC’s immersive Disorientation Room.
For this special holiday issue, we’re highlighting some of the players who are pioneering the brave new world of legal weed and creating the kind of cannabis culture that can only come from the Empire State.
New York Weed Is…
There simply is no New York cannabis industry without the devoted farmers who are growing and cultivating the magical crop for our consumption. Since applications opened up in 2022, roughly 280 farms have been granted cultivation licenses by the Office of Cannabis Management. And though there’s an abundance of options hitting dispensary shelves every day, any aficionado can tell you that every good ganja grower does things in their own special way.
At Hudson Cannabis, doing things differently is a key part of the mission. Founded by siblings Ben, Melanie, and Freya Dobson, Hudson Cannabis is driven by regenerative farming practices, using their hemp and cannabis crops to pull harmful pollutants from the environment, sequester carbon, and restore healthy soil. Having been raised on a Hudson Valley farm—and having been taught the tools of the trade by their dad, Ted (a pioneer of New York’s organic farming movement in the ’80s)—the Dobson siblings are working to turn the once-polluted, now-certified-organic fields on Old Mud Creek Farm into the world’s first climate positive cannabis operation.
Just a stone’s throw away lies another family-run farm using cannabis to fulfill an agricultural legacy. Helmed by husband-and-wife duo King Aswad and Jasmine Burems, Claudine Farms is a matriarchal farm using biodynamic practices to grow all kinds of medicinal herbs, including the good green. Brooklyn-born Aswad, a sixth-generation New Yorker, named the farm in homage to his grandmother who first taught him how to tend to the land. Despite the growing number of licenses, the Copake farm remains one of the only Black-owned operations in the state—a fact that the couple hopes to change through their land-based education nonprofit, the Institute of Afrofuturist Ecology.
When thinking about edible cannabis, most people’s minds conjure up the image of a sugar-coated gummy or a fudgy pot brownie. But a skilled contingent of New York chefs is working to shift the public’s perception of edible marijuana by creating dining experiences that as intentionally incorporate the flavors and properties of cannabis as they do any other ingredient.
One of the highest-profile cannabis chefs in the city is restaurateur and Beard Award nominee Miguel Trinidad, co-founder of the swanky supper club 99th Floor. Galvanized by a mission to destigmatize cannabis in his hometown through the universal language of food, Trinidad and business partner Doug Cohen curate bespoke prix-fixe dining experiences across the boroughs that feature gourmet microdosed dishes like lacy latkes topped with whipped chicken liver mousse and grilled octopus with aji amarillo.
Just 10 minutes from Manhattan, another native New Yorker is building her own culinary kingdom at the tip of Queens. Located in Long Island City, Kakes NYC was co-founded in 2022 by master baker and Jean-Georges alum Karol Zapata and life partner Ricco Ruiz. In addition to serving a varied menu of both infused and non-infused dishes that include butter poached lobster rolls and pineapple kimchi fried rice, Kakes also serves as a lively cannabis consumption lounge and events space.
ART & DESIGN
Cannabis has been a mainstay in the artist’s tool kit since time immemorial, but the actual aesthetics of getting high have historically been less than artful: gaudy glass pipes, dirty bongs, and an egregious overuse of Bob Marley’s image. Aiming to create a different experience for the artistically inclined, Sackville Studios is a multidisciplinary design and production studio inventing a new visual language for the modern cannabis consumer. Founded in 2019 by Brooklyn duo Hayley Dineen and Lana Van Brunt, Sackville designs vibrant products and creative campaigns for their own brand, as well as collaborators such as Miss Grass, Sundae School, and even Playboy.
Motivated by a similar mission, best friends and business partners Alison Krongard and Laura Eisman founded Her Highness NYC in 2017 to bring the art of pleasure to the wider world of weed, with a distinctly feminine flair. Through eye-catching accessories like their signature Thigh High Rolling Tray—a stunning slab of white marble accented by pairs of cheekily posed polished brass legs—the pair of native New Yorkers create products that even casual smokers would want to keep out in plain view.
It may seem like the industry in New York State has exploded in the three years since legalization, but the actual rules of running a plant-touching cannabis business are still changing every day. Unfortunately, the nebulous nature of the law can be an enormous hurdle for budding entrepreneurs trying to enter the market, as well as legacy operators looking to go legit.
Seeing as all good stoners love to share, serial entrepreneur Juliia Deviatkina founded a place where cannabis lovers can share both their bud and business advice. Opened by Deviatkina in 2022, Work’n’Roll is a consumption-friendly co-working space and start-up incubator connecting folks from all corners of the industry. After hours, the airy 12th story Chelsea loft serves as an event venue, hosting both members-only mixers and public-facing programming that ranges from karaoke nights to NFT drops.
Some public colleges and universities across the state have also taken an interest in workforce development for cannabis careers, offering formal courses for folks interested in learning the intricacies of cannabusiness. Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College has become the first CUNY to offer a robust minor degree program in cannabis; there, students take courses in chemical pharmacology, sustainable growing, product formulation, and more. At Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, New Yorkers can enroll in micro-credential programs covering cannabis retail and cultivation.
In a city overflowing with cute concept stores, it comes as no surprise that two of New York’s very first recreational dispensaries teamed up with top architecture studios to challenge what selling weed can look like. Brought to life by visionary architect Jennifer di Leonardi of Cinema Vitae (Gucci, Ralph Lauren), Gotham looks more like a chic home goods store than a place to buy pot: The long walls are lined with sky-high blond wood shelves, each teeming with throw pillows, art books, and bongs so delicate that they could be vases. But at the back of the shop—beyond a giant sculptural tree that canopies the ceiling—you’ll find Gotham’s well-curated selection of the good stuff.
Looking to take customers to a whole new altitude, Union Square Travel Agency tapped internationally acclaimed studio Leong Leong (Everlane, Philip Lim) to construct their retro-futuristic cannabis store located just around the corner from the park. Every detail of the space age shop has a transportive quality, from the curved walls of the alluring—and educational—flower lounge, to the oblong display cases covered by Jetsons-esque glass domes. While you can’t book a cruise package here, you can certainly trip: The dispensary carries over 350 products that will send you blissfully adrift.
While the stereotypical stoner fashion of yesteryear may have been defined by well-worn Birkenstock sandals and the infamous Baja hoodie (aka the drug rug), savvy New York designers know that there’s no need to sacrifice high fashion for the sake of getting high. Just this summer, luxury handbag maker Edie Parker kept selling out of their Burn Bags—a line of sleek purses and clutches with a built in lighter case—after going viral on TikTok.
For leather bag lovers hoping to marry fashion and function, look no further than the Caché Belt Bag from innovative accessory brand Littlejohn New York. Made with premium top grain leather, this stylish take on the fanny pack features a concealed odor-proof pocket that promises to keep your sweet stash a secret.
Even before legalization, the world of weed has always been about more than just a product: it’s about a culture. And what better way to honor that history than with a sprawling 30,000-square-foot immersive museum smack dab in the middle of SoHo? The House of Cannabis (aka THC NYC) encourages patrons to get lost in high culture through five floors of multisensory exhibits that celebrate magical dimensions of the plant without shying away from its painful past.
Dedicated to keeping the living legacy of New York cannabis alive, entrepreneurs Jacobi Holland and Lulu Tsui founded On the Revel, an organization curating events and conferences that support inclusivity and equity for those seeking opportunities in the industry. Through events like Revelry, an annual free block party and festival, On the Revel has built a platform for the necessary conversations that are shaping the culture of the state’s cannabis industry into one that’s as diverse and eclectic as New York herself.
New Yorkers love to believe that we live at the center of the universe, and that just might be true when it comes to weed—in fact, New York City is the cannabis consumption capital of the world, toking down an average of 62.3 tons of bud per year. And as the industry here continues to work through growing pains, it’s crucial that this purchasing power be used to back the businesses and coalitions that are fighting for every New Yorker’s right to access high-quality, lab-tested cannabis.
After all, life is too short to smoke bad weed.