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By Curtis Brodner 1010 WINS, February 13, 2023


NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — The third legal cannabis dispensary in New York City opened at noon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony near Union Square on Monday.

The The Travel Agency at East 13th Street near Broadway is a collaboration between private sector entrepreneurs and the Doe Fund, a non-profit that provides transitional housing, jobs training and job and housing placement to formerly incarcerated or homeless people.


The first batch of dispensary licenses were issued exclusively to people with former cannabis convictions, their family members or non-profits that support formerly incarcerated people.


The Doe fund has served more than 30,000 men who were incarcerated or homeless. The organization currently has almost 700 people in its programs.


“Very early on [CEO] Paul [Yau] and I knew that we wanted to partner with a local not-for-profit that serves the population that really has been impacted the greatest by the war on drugs,” USTA President Arana Hankin-Biggers told 1010 WINS.


The business partners started searching for a non-profit right after cannabis was legalized in the spring of 2021.


Fifty-one percent of USTA’s profits will go to the Doe fund. The dispensary has also partnered with the Cannabis Justice and Equity Initiative and the Unified Legacy Operators Council Network.


Both organizations aim to place people with former cannabis convictions in the legal weed industry.


USTA has already hired two formerly incarcerated people through the Unloc Network and has committed to hiring more through CJEI once the first class of the new non-profit’s 15-week training program graduates.


Customers wait in line ahead of USTA's grand opening on Monday.

Customers wait in line ahead of USTA’s grand opening on Monday. Photo credit Curtis Brodner

The store’s charitable partners are not involved in daily operations — that task falls to the private sector leadership that owns 49% of the store.

In addition to hiring formerly incarcerated people, USTA’s owners say they are aiming to hire a workforce that reflects the communities most harmed by the war on drugs — primarily Black and Latino people.

“[State officials] are trying to help economically communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” said CEO Paul Yau. “I would say that the majority of our employees are probably from communities disproportionately affected. They know people first hand who have been personally and directly impacted by the war on drugs.”

The company has already hired between 50 and 60 people to work in the dispensary, and the owners plan on opening a second location down the block in June.

The second, slightly larger storefront that currently sits empty. Come June, this will become USTA's primary outlet.

The second, slightly larger storefront that currently sits empty. Come June, this will become USTA’s primary outlet. Photo credit Curtis Brodner

When the new location opens, it will serve as the primary storefront, while the current spot transitions to servicing pick-ups and deliveries.

“[We’re] really trying to invest into the employees,” said Yao. “Really trying to educate them, give them the tools so they can be successful and confident while dealing with customers, educating them on the plant, the products… We’ve really invested the time into our people to make them top class.”

The shop sells flower, vapes, pre-rolls, concentrates, edibles and tinctures. An eighth of flower sells for between $44 and $60.

A budtender recommends cannabis products to a customer at the grand opening of USTA on Monday.

A budtender recommends cannabis products to a customer at the grand opening of USTA on Monday. Photo credit Curtis Brodner

Products in the store are locally and ethically sourced, focusing on weed grown by New York independent farmers.

Karli Miller-Hornick, an organic farmer who co-founder the cannabis company Farmer Group, started farming hemp and expanded to adult-use cannabis when grow licenses were distributed in the spring and summer of 2022.

“We started growing CBD four years ago and just started with one little bottle at the farmers market every single weekend telling every single customer and teaching them about what CBD was,” said Miller-Hornick. “It’s just grown organically from there, as has our company.”

Now, USTA carries Farmer Group’s adult-use cannabis brands like flower from Florist Farms and wax from Blotter.

A screen where shoppers can view the full menu of products avaiable at USTA.

A screen where shoppers can view the full menu of products available at USTA. Photo credit Curtis Brodner

For independent, organic farmers like Miller-Hornick, the budding cannabis industry represents an opportunity to grow before interstate cannabis giants can choke out competition.

“We want to see tens of thousands of people become millionaires and not just a few select people become billionaires,” she told 1010 WINS. “That’s what the whole New York market is about, is that we’re making sure we’re creating wealth in communities that were the hardest hit by the war on drugs.”

New York City has long been a hub for weed smoking — even at the height of prohibition.

Now, as legal dispensaries start to open and the city looks to crackdown on unlicensed outlets, a new landscape emerges for veteran pot enthusiasts.

“It’s very interesting, because this whole area — they used to have dealers not too far. Within a few blocks from here, but today is the first day where it’s going to be done legally and it’s a remarkable thing,” said Quinn, a customer waiting in line at USTA. “There are places by the Bowery Church where different people would be. They would sell on the streets. So, it’s very different. That was the street action, the street life, whereas this is like going into a delicatessen.”

The interior of USTA.

The interior of USTA. Photo credit Curtis Brodner

By Curtis Brodner 1010 WINS, February 13, 2023

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