April 2, 2023

CAURD Chronicles: 8 Licensees on the Future of Cannabis in New York

Anne Forkutza
April 2, 2023

With the second anniversary of the passing of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—and to celebrate the next round of CAURD licenses being awarded today by the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), Dutchie is introducing our first installment of the CAURD Chronicles.

Introducing the CAURD Chronicles

In the CAURD Chronicles, we'll be spotlighting New York’s CAURD licensees (and the family members who supported them) throughout their cannabis journey. In our first chapter, we asked 8 CAURD members—all at various licensing stages—the following questions:

  • What were you doing two years ago? 
  • What does your life look like now? 
  • What do you hope the New York cannabis industry—and your business—looks like in two years?

Here's what they had to say.

1. Coss Marte, CONBUD

Coss Marte is a newly awarded CAURD licensee in Manhattan and cannabis leader.

Credit: conbud.com

What were you doing two years ago? 

Coss Marte: Two years ago, I got married to my best friend, Roxie, and became the luckiest guy on the planet.  It was such an exciting and grateful time. 

The pandemic was coming to an end; my team at CONBODY was able to finally get back into the studio; my wife and I learned we were pregnant with our baby girl, Camila Rose; my brother, Chris, secured his seat as a New York City Council Member; I helped launch Second Chance Studios, a nonprofit organization that equips formerly incarcerated individuals with media production skills.

Finally, my cousins, Alfredo Anguiera and Junior Martinez, and I began talking about this crazy idea we had to open the world’s first cannabis dispensary operated by justice-involved folks like us.

What does your life look like now? 

Coss Marte: Busy, but that’s who I am.  Even while incarcerated, I was always busy… training inmates, reading, and putting together the CONBODY business plan.  We actually just celebrated CONBODY’s 10th Anniversary (and my 10th Anniversary being out of prison). Currently, my days are jam packed, filled with meetings with both my CONBODY team as well as my CONBUD leadership team. 

I do a lot of speaking engagements and prison reform advocacy work, so I also travel quite a bit.  Thankfully, Zoom allows me to take meetings and keep the machines running regardless of where I am. Right now, I’m currently in Atlanta working with the Stand Together Foundation on workshops that help formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs improve their businesses from the ground up. 

In between workshops, I’m on calls with our CONBUD website developers and PR teams and answering emails from various groups:  regulators, prospective partners, folks looking to be employed, supply chain partners, procurement platforms, manufacturers, etc.  And of course, I’m constantly FaceTiming my wife and baby. 

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Coss Marte: My hopes for the New York cannabis industry are pragmatic. I think we’re going to have a really tough road ahead… contending with a lack of federal banking, a growing illicit market, and soon, competition from well-capitalized corporations.  But none of that scares me.  I’m preparing for it, and I'm a precariously optimistic person who is no stranger to tests of endurance, patience, and will.

My hope is that by 2025, CONBUD will be a New York destination, an incredible employment resource for people reentering society, a business with unparalleled customer service, and a top purveyor of premium brands and exclusive products.  We want consumers to feel good knowing that each and every CONBUD purchase is directly supporting a business whose mission is to lower New York State’s 43% recidivism rate. 

Many people don’t know that just two years ago, New York incarcerated more people than any other democracy on earth, only second to the US. Many people don’t know that from 1973 to 2000, Black and Latino New York youth—caught at the lowest level of possession, made up 94% of all New York convictions.

Many people don't know that 75% of these youth came from just seven New York City neighborhoods, one of which was my neighborhood, the Lower East Side. So my hope is that by 2025, CONBUD will be a Lower East Side institution that generates meaningful tax rewards for our community while also being a celebration of progress. 

2. Michael James, Good Grades

Michael James opened Good Grades in Jamaica, Queens with his cousin, CAURD licensee Extasy James. Extasy was the first woman to own a licensed dispensary in New York.

Credit: nydailynews.com

What were you doing two years ago?

Michael James: I was working at my law practice and began consultations for cannabis licenses. I didn't know that for the next few weeks I would be flooded with potential clients looking to take part in this new industry. I heard so many stories of people waiting for the moment cannabis was legalized so that they could be in the legal market. My son was also due in just over a month—so it was an exciting time both personally and professionally.  

What does your life look like now?

Michael James: My life in one word: busy. I am now in the position of opening the first cannabis dispensary in Jamaica, Queens with my cousin and it is, once again, an exciting time personally and professionally. This seems to be the theme. My son is a healthy little world wind.  

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Michael James: I hope to see the New York cannabis industry thriving and our business playing an integral role in its success. My vision for the business is that it'll be well-established with a strong brand presence throughout New York State. We will consistently provide high-quality products and services, while also working to educate consumers on the benefits of cannabis. 

3. Rashauna Durhan, William Jane

Rashauna Durhan is the spouse of CAURD licensee Will Durhan, who runs William Jane Dispensary in Ithaca.

Credit: William Jane

What were you doing two years ago?

Rashauna Durhan: Very similar to today, just a little more hectic. Personally, our family dynamic was starting to feel the change as we were celebrating our oldest son going into his senior year of high school and looking into college which was all as exciting as it was scary. We had four extremely active children, trying to juggle their schedules along with trying to grow our respective businesses and rebuild from the fallout of the COVID crisis. 

Stress was definitely there, but we were hopeful and optimistic. Will was trying to secure a dependable team for our construction company, we were trying to expand our real estate ventures and I was just extremely grateful to be able to open my salon back up after having been closed for COVID. We were in hyperactive "get it" mode. 

What does your life look like now?

Rashauna Durhan: Today, our life looks very similar! Our oldest son has graduated and started to embark on his own dreams and life. Our three younger children have seemed to become even busier although I didn’t even think it was possible. As far as Will and I, we are still constantly on the move! We're still running our construction company along with our hair salon and real estate businesses. We're excited about our new business and roles in the cannabis industry and what it means to afford us the time, flexibility, and income to pour into different ventures and our community. 

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Rashauna Durhan: I hope that the cannabis industry will continue to be the fastest growing business yet! I hope that it allows for people of underserved communities that were mostly targeted for it to have an opportunity to be put in places that will change the trajectory of their futures for good. I am still in disbelief of what our own future can possibly look like.

The legalization of cannabis combined with the CAURD program has been a dream come true for people like us. So, in two years I am hoping that we will have helped become trailblazers in this industry. That our business will have shifted our own start to generational wealth for our family and community. 

4. Gabriel Marin, Culture House

Gabriel Marin was a first round CAURD licensee in Manhattan.

Credit: Culture House

What were you doing two years ago?

Gabriel Marin: I was in the middle of the pandemic and lockdown. Business was very slow. I was working in construction development, which was struggling at the time due to the pandemic.  I just had my newborn little girl, who was born prematurely. I spent most of my time taking care of her. While all this was occurring I was depending on cannabis as a coping mechanism to get through it all. 

What does your life look like now?

Gabriel Marin: One day I saw an Instagram ad that had some message along the lines of "Have you been locked up because of cannabis?" I clicked on it and filled out some information, and that led me to the OCM. I completed the licensing application. Then, theOCM awarded the first 36—I was part of the initial 36 and first 4 in Manhattan. When I found out I was awarded a license, the first thing I thought was, "This is all for my daughter Yeritsa. Let's do this baby." 

I began exploring property in Manhattan on my own using the ACRIS real estate website. Because I have experience in real estate as well, I found property on my own, got it approved by the OCM, and am currently in the planning stages of building and opening my dispensary.

Like the saying goes, 'If you make it in your hometown, it’s big. If you make it in New York, then you can make it anywhere.'

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Gabriel Marin: This is all about us putting a stamp for New York and for this industry. I see cannabis as a commodity that is as easy to buy as tobacco or alcohol. I see New York leading the cannabis industry with its innovation in products, strains, and retail. Like the saying goes, 'If you make it in your hometown, it’s big. If you make it in New York, then you can make it anywhere.'

5. Darius Conner, Smacked Village

Darius Conner is the son of CAURD licensee Roland Conner—the first Black entrepreneur to own a licensed dispensary in New York. Smacked is located in East Village.

Credit: smacked.online

What were you doing two years ago? 

Darius Conner: I was in Florida working for my dad with his other business. I was hosting events in the legacy market, as well. 

What does your life look like now?

Darius Conner: Now my life is very different. It's a big 180 from being in the legacy market to the legal market and I love it. It’s just like a big upgrade and I can be nothing but thankful for this opportunity. A typical day: waking up in the morning and on thousands of phone calls before we even get to the dispensary! Then I’m in the shop all day until 10 at night. 

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Darius Conner: In two years, I want our dispensary to be the biggest in NYC—and I want everyone to be excited for the other stores we will be opening.

6. Chris Myers, GreenerySpot

Chris Myers is a newly-awarded CAURD licensee in the Southern Tier.

Credit: GreenerySpot

What were you doing two years ago? 

From a personal perspective, I got married in 2020—which was no small feat with COVID. We planned and replanned the wedding several times, but love conquers all! In 2022, we celebrated our son’s first birthday with family and friends. He just keeps on getting more fun as the days go by!

From a professional perspective, I was managing a restaurant and enjoying the free reign the business owner entrusted me with. I trained new employees and was available for mentoring the younger employees. I also had full knowledge of the recipes used in this business with the business owner’s full blessing. I built up a loyal customer base for deliveries, which was quite lucrative. I have a lot of contact with people and the exchanges were very positive.

What does your life look like now? 

My life is very busy with the restaurant, although I see that lessening or halting all together with CAURD. Our son is high up on the priority list, if not number one. My wife is very supportive of my business endeavors and work hours, which peak at holidays and during sporting events. 

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

I hope the New York cannabis industry continues to improve dispensaries and monitors the quality of the products being sold. Hopefully in two years all the gifting “sticker” shops will be closed up and not seen as competitors. I hope my business’s location and set-up attracts customers. I hope it's organized and has a security presence. I hope the business is seen as the place to be and is profitable.

7. Jeremy Rivera, Culture House

Jeremy is a newly-awarded CAURD licensee in Queens.

Credit: Culture House

What were you doing two years ago?

Jeremy Rivera: Two years ago I was a full time construction safety instructor and construction superintendent. I was teaching safety classes every night and during the day I was working on some on NYC largest job sites over seeing production. Working construction, especially in production management is a very intense and stressful job. I over saw about 3-5 job sites at a time and over 80 employees. My personal life was construction. Phone calls stared at 430am sometime and didn’t end until late in the night. All of the little free time I had for myself I spent with my wife and kids.

What does your life look like now?

Jeremy Rivera: Since CAURD, my life has been immersed in cannabis. Making friends and business connections in the space. I still instruct safety classes and do site audits but due to my focus on my cannabis endeavors I left my my job as a superintendent. It was a difficult decision, it paid very well, and leaving it hurt my pockets a bit, but I knew I had to give my all in this space if I wanted to be successful.  Now that I don’t have to wake up at 4 am for work I get to take my 4year old to school everyday and focus on my Cannabis company. I still go construction site about 2-3 times a week to preform safety audits for contracts I have but it’s not completely consuming my time. So I can focus on meetings and networking.

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Jeremy Rivera: My hopes first and foremost are that in two years all of the members of the New York CAURD Coalition are awarded and working in the space.  I want to see a prosperous market that’s equitable and fairly distributed to ppl who have been effected by the prohibition. I want to see I market that supports local small business owners in the space.

8. Britni Tantalo, Flower City Dispensary

Britni Tantalo is a CAURD applicant hopeful in the Finger Lakes region. She's also Co-founder of New York CAURD Coalition.

Credit: Flower City Dispesnary

What were you doing two years ago? 

Britni Tantalo: I was opening our hydroponic grow store in Fairport, New York alongside my business partner and husband Jayson. It was important to us to bring home and commercial cultivation education to our local community. We were also heavily focused on planning out our dispensary, Flower City Dispensary, here in Rochester. Building out our business plan was at the forefront of what we were doing at this time. It was critical that we were as prepared as we could be in preparation for the release of the CAURD application.

We spent a lot of time traveling to farms and processing facilities throughout New York State building relationships and learning about the supply chain. We sought out relationships with tech companies and security companies to better understand the dynamics of these services in a cannabis retail dispensary. We were heavily invested in the CAURD program and creating a plan for economic development in our local community. Outside of business, I spent most of my time with family, as Jayson and I share two small children ages 3 and 1 years old (two years ago). I try my best to not miss opportunities to spend time with my children as they are growing so fast and to take the time to connect as a family. 

What does your life look like now?

Britni Tantalo: Honestly, life has changed so much in the last two years, especially in cannabis. Today we're navigating a cannabis recession with our hydroponic store and waiting for an injunction to be lifted or removed in the finger lakes region so Flower City Dispensary can have an opportunity to open. It’s definitely been a struggle to bring legal cannabis to market and sustain the downturn in the industry.

I've also become the co-founder and CEO of the New York CAURD Coalition. We're an organization that is geared towards providing access to resources across the supply chain. The idea is to create an ecosystem that can cohesively work together to build an effective and efficient cannabis industry here in New York State. Access to resources and access to fluidly communicate amongst the whole supply chain is a necessity. I’m proud to represent cannabis retail as a woman minority CAURD applicant and to be amongst such an amazing community of people within our coalition.

 To be honest, I don’t believe there is a typical day for anyone in cannabis as this industry is so volatile and changes by the minute. If I had to sum up the main things I focus on during the day it would be: being a wife, being a mom, and everything else is cannabis.  

What do you hope the New York cannabis industry and your business look like in two years?

Britni Tantalo: What’s most important to me is that it's an industry that represents equality. I hope to see full inclusion with women and women minorities having equal opportunities and outcomes. I also hope to see an industry that collaborates over just competing to truly build a foundation that we can all stand on. I hope that more access to resources becomes available for those that are in need of help or guidance. I hope communities are able to rebuild through reinvestment and families are able to truly achieve generational wealth for the future of their children.

In terms of my business, I hope to have our doors open at Flower City Dispensary in Rochester, NY and that we are thriving. I hope to see sales from cannabis being reinvested back into our communities. That job creation and ancillary business opportunities spur the economic development that Rochester and many other areas of the state so desperately need. I hope we are well on our way to being the largest cannabis economy in the world.

About Dutchie

Dutchie is the leading technology partner for cannabis retailers of all sizes. With a range of solutions covering point of sale, payments, ecommerce, insurance, and more, Dutchie empowers dispensaries to run efficiently, scale their operation easily, stay compliant, and offer outstanding experiences to the customers who rely on them.

Thinking of opening a dispensary in New York? Contact Jalen Jones to learn how Dutchie can help.

About the author
Anne Forkutza
Head of Strategic Growth @ Dutchie