Indoor Treez: A New Route to Legal Cannabis Dispensaries in NYC

New Hell’s Kitchen legal dispensary opens through CAURD program, giving economic opportunity to those negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition.

| 07 Jun 2024 | 05:14

Indoor Treez, Hell’s Kitchen’s first legal cannabis dispensary, opened just eight weeks ago and business is already booming. Co-owners Fikri Nagi and Wesim Alsaidi took an unconventional route to get to opening day, utilizing a new licensing program created in 2022 by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) called CAURD, or Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary.

CAURD is a licensing program that provides opportunities for people negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition. Throughout the 1990s, Nagi was arrested in the Bronx eight times on account of possessing, selling, and smoking weed. While he never served time in jail, he admits that those experiences negatively impacted the course of his life.

“I wasn’t a bad guy. I was just a smoker. But all of the charges I was getting messed up my record. I couldn’t get a lot of jobs. I was full of shame about myself. After the pandemic, I lost my job doing technician work and I was so stressed that I got gray hairs,” said Nagi. “I don’t like to be in the streets. I like to work. And now, thank God, I’ve got a business to run. I’m here way more than you think. I’m here all day.”

Nagi’s co-owner and longtime friend Alsaidi, both New Yorkers whose families immigrated from Yemen, has a retail background working for his father’s chain of gas stations.

“It’s the same thing,” said Alsaidi, “with just a little more rules here and there.”

While Alsaidi is right that there are few differences between selling gas and cannabis, the road to opening a dispensary itself is a lot more treacherous. Weed was legalized in New York State just three years ago, and the CAURD program wasn’t established until a year after that.

“In the beginning, everything was new-- to both the people and the government,” said Nagi. “The landlords didn’t know about the program, so they didn’t want to give us a retail store. There was no actual license at first, just government approval...OCM was a new agency, so they had new leaders and new rules come out every week or so. It was new for everybody. And it took us a long time to get here.”

But both Nagi and Alsaidi are grateful to the government for making a once incriminating hobby their new livelihood. They applied for CAURD right when it came out and after two and a half years of cooperation, patience, and diligence, are finally reaping the benefits of hard work.

“A lot of people applied, and they didn’t choose everybody. I guess I got lucky,” said Nagi.

“He hit the lottery,” added Alsaidi.

Since Indoor Treez opened, most of their customer base has been tourists— an unsurprising fact given their location on 38th and 8th Ave. in the heart of midtown. Their foreign perspective makes it easier to imagine a future where legal dispensaries are as ubiquitous in neighborhoods as gyms or supermarkets.

“The tourists that come here are so happy. They come on vacation to visit New York—you should see their faces when they come in. I wish I could show you,” said Nagi.

For many, the presence of legal and accessible weed is unbelievable and thrilling given the historical stigma surrounding the drug. People are used to buying black market weed from dealers or illegal smoke shops. Recent clampdowns and raids of the city’s illegal smoke shops contribute to the idea that weed is dangerous or unreliable.

“I’m not gonna give bad credit to the smoke shops, but they did put so much bad weed out there. And you don’t know what’s in their stuff...I went through hell to open up this store, to get the license, to get the money together and figure out how to run a business. So much went into it, and these places have it so easy. How would you feel?” said Nagi.

Both Nagi and Alsaidi hope the presence of legal dispensaries changes both the government and the population’s attitude toward marijuana:

“I’ve been smoking for over 20 years. I’m focused when I’m smoking, I’m calm when I’m smoking. I’m doing the same thing day to day whether I’m smoking or not,” said Nagi. “The new generations shouldn’t go through what we had to go through. I’ll say it again and again: there’s gonna be weed no matter what. People love to smoke. Why not have legal weed that’s tested and comes from a lab? There’s a huge market that’s willing to pay tax for it, and it keeps everybody happy.”

“You deserve to have dispensaries in your area, just like how you have supermarkets, liquor stores, and pharmacies,” said Nagi. “You should have this resource in your community and feel safe getting it.”

While critics still voice concerns about excessive marijuana use—especially among young people—Indoor Treez and the CAURD program represent a solid step forward from the punitive past. For a peek at a city where weed—for adults who choose to use it— is legal, regulated, accessible, and destigmatized, check out their new store on the ground floor of the Music Building, 584 8th Avenue, near 39th Street.