New York’s Weed Rush Is Here. They Came to Cash In.
One evening, about a month later, I met C. in Midtown at a residential four-floor walk-up built in 1910. There was a free-standing A.T.M. out front and a banner for a members-only cannabis club. The building itself is home to two cannabis businesses — the club on the ground floor, run by a legacy operator who has been selling cannabis illegally for 15 years, and a “grow house” upstairs. The grow house is where C. gets their cannabis. “My main goal is to have nothing but the New York product,” he said; he wants to support the local industry, from seed to smoke, with cultivators, pickers and rollers from the city, in part because he doesn’t think that users elsewhere around the country appreciate the history of black-market grows in New York. The Sour Diesel strain, for example, is thought to have originated in New York. When it reached Miami, when C. was a teenager, it was the only kind of cannabis he smoked. “I have huge respect for New York growers and huge respect for the game out here. And it’s really an honor to be a part of all this.” Though he wasn’t sure how many places like the Midtown grow house existed in the city, he guessed the number could be in the hundreds. “Just in Chinatown alone, that’s where most of the country gets the old-school Bubba,” he said. “The black market and the underground stretches beyond anybody’s imagination.”
This particular grow house occupied the living rooms of two one-bedroom apartments. Danny (who goes by Danny Lyfe) set up the operation two years ago. He showed me the 26 plants in the back apartment, which he expected to produce 12 pounds of cannabis every 10 weeks. Each plant, about three feet tall, had its own pot, with a masking-tape label that identified its strain — Cherry Lime Runt or Joker’s Candy, for instance — and phenotype. Danny was reluctant to show me the plants in the front apartment because they weren’t doing that well: The employee who had been tending them mistakenly pruned them back too far. While C. and Danny shared a pre-roll, they were deep in conversation about the benefits of each strain and the preferred temperature (75 to 80 degrees), relative humidity (high 50s, low 60s, in the flowering stage) and light for the plants, the last two variables of which Danny controls remotely on his phone.
The grow house is only one part of Danny’s business. He owns a farm in Oregon, where he is licensed to grow medicinal cannabis, and a streetwear shop in Staten Island, where he lives. When I asked Danny and C. how they met, they both laughed. They couldn’t remember at first but then traced their connection back to a cannabis connoisseur who posted about Danny’s events on Instagram.
Danny told me his latest goal is to address a countrywide void: quality pre-rolls. “Pre-rolls are tainted in the nationwide market because most people use their garbage material — their endings, their trim,” he said. He wanted to produce 1,400 pre-rolls a day to sell wholesale for $5 each. He had just spent an entire shift that day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., working with his employees to, as he put it, “roll cannolis.” The plants, all female, would eventually be trimmed and harvested in July.
As Danny locked up the apartment, he whispered to the plants, “See you later, love you girls.” Because he is deeply invested in weed — he is 33 but has spent 18 years in the industry so far — he is eager for everything to be officially legal. “I can’t wait for my outpost to open, that’s going to be lit,” he said. Danny doesn’t mind talking about his business publicly. He is already involved in several groups applying for licenses to grow and sell cannabis, and he is confident about his prospects. One project will be headquartered in a former bank in White Plains, a nearby suburb. At one point he found himself with the White Plains mayor. “I’m Puerto Rican from New York City sitting at the mayor’s office, and I’m pushing weed,” Danny told me, describing their meeting. The mayor asked Danny what his role was in the company. Danny said he told him about his industry expertise and added, “I’m the one who checks off every box as far as social equity.”
S. and C. hope to get their own license next year, but the process has been slow (and will probably be expensive, they worry). “We’re trying to build a membership and really just go about it the best way we can without stepping on anybody’s toes,” C. says. It’s a delicate balance, he notes, trying to respect the work of the activists who helped pass New York’s cannabis legislation while also taking advantage of the market it is creating. The issue of equity matters to them. “Cannabis has a deep, dark history,” he says, referring to the racial disparities in arrests for possession of cannabis in urban areas. He has seen it firsthand. “I come from Miami, so I get it. I want to make sure we do this a certain way.”
After Danny left, C. told me that he and S. were just getting by with what they were making from their New York venture. All the giveaways, the events, the rent, the employees, taxes — it adds up. Gross sales were high, but so were the costs of expanding their business. While their 4/20 party was a celebratory occasion, they had also just paid an extraordinary amount to the government. Their business may be operating in a legal gray area, but they are still subject to state and federal taxes, and they can’t claim any write-offs.