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By Bobby Cuza, Published May 10, 2023 on Spectrum News NY1




At first glance, it could be any other employee training session. But the The Travel Agency is not just any other business — it’s one of New York’s first legal cannabis dispensaries.


So on a Thursday in February, some 50 newly hired workers were learning a job that, until recently, did not exist in New York: selling customers adult-use marijuana.


Mike Conway, who runs the store’s retail operations, said he initially received more than 1,000 applications for about 50 openings. Past cannabis use didn’t hurt your chances, but also wasn’t a job requirement.


What You Need To Know

    • The Travel Agency was one of New York’s first cannabis dispensaries, converting a vacant space on East 13th Street into a retail store within just a few weeks last winter
    • The store initially received more than 1,000 applications for about 50 openings; while staff must be well-versed in the product, cannabis use was not a job requirement
    • Store operations are dictated by strict state regulations on everything from product displays to the placement and usage of security camera
    • Some employees worked previously in the illicit market, in keeping with the industry’s emphasis on social equity


“That actually didn’t have any bearing on whether they got hired or not,” said Conway, the store’s vice president of retail. “That was more for me to have the information to know how basic to start.”


The training, at times, had the feel of a college seminar, as employees took notes and asked questions while learning about the store’s product line. Under state regulations, staff must also be trained on everything from recognizing signs of impairment to how to spot fake IDs. And there’s a chemistry component, with frequent reference to decarboxylation and different methods of distillation.


“This is a hard job,” Conway said. “There’s a lot of information. You’re learning about the science of cannabis. You’re learning about really intense regulations and compliance and all these things that when you go work as a cashier somewhere, you’re not really focused on.”


Dispensary associates are sometimes referred to as budtenders — the cannabis equivalent of a bartender. They’re expected to be knowledgeable on the effects of various products, from potency to taste to the duration of the high.


The Travel Agency was one of the first dispensaries out of the gate following the issuance of retail licenses last fall, turning a vacant space on East 13th Street in Manhattan into a cannabis shop within just a few weeks in late January and early February.


The store’s design is largely dictated by strict state regulations, which cover everything from product displays to the placement of security cameras. There are limitations on signage, and cannabis can’t be visible from outside the store. And because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, credit cards may not be used.


As for the products, they must all be sourced from New York. And there are already plenty to choose from.


Dave Vautrin, an operating partner in the The Travel Agency, manages the store’s product offerings. Just prior to opening, he showed NY1 the dizzying array of options, from gummies to vape pens to beverages to THC diamonds, a high-potency concentrate.


Vautrin says while the bulk of consumers still buy cannabis in its smokable form, known as flower, other products have grown in popularity. “We’ll tend to over-index more on the edibles — products that, frankly, they can’t get as readily in the illicit shops,” he said.


Those illicit shops on seemingly every city block pose a direct threat to the legal dispensaries and are perhaps the biggest challenge facing the industry. So far just eight legal shops have opened statewide; The Travel Agency, majority-owned by the Doe Fund, is one of three run by nonprofits that serve those with past marijuana records.


In keeping with the industry’s focus on social equity, some employees worked previously in the illicit market. Kirk, an associate who wanted only his first name used, said he was once a street dealer.


“I was definitely one of the kids that was outside on the corner,” he said. “You know, marijuana, it’s in our neighborhoods all the time. It’s a way for us to find a way to earn a dollar when you can’t find employment.”


Now, that experience is viewed as a plus in New York’s fledgling cannabis industry, an industry unlike any other. It has many of the trappings of the traditional business world, but with a very different vibe.


What other job would send you home from training with cannabis products to sample?


“We’re using similar training structures that you would see in a corporate environment, but it’s not stuffy. We’re not using coded language. We’re selling weed,” Conway said. “It’s really fun.”


By Bobby Cuza, Published May 10, 2023 on Spectrum News NY1

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