2023 Trip to New York’s Licensed Cannabis Dispensaries

I recently took advantage of a trip to New York City to visit the first three licensed cannabis retail dispensaries in Manhattan: Housing Works Cannabis, Smacked Village, and Union Square Travel Agency. All are conveniently located within a fifteen minute walk of each other between Union Square and Washington Square Park. I visited them first in the middle of the day and later in the evening on a weekend. Here are my takeaways from this exploration.

Dispensary Customer Service is Key

Each cannabis dispensary experience was different in its own unique way. One component that was thankfully consistent with each was great customer service. An often-overlooked aspect of opening a dispensary is hiring the best people for the business. This includes security personnel (more on that later) and dispensing technicians or as we usually call them “budtenders.”

The staff were all equally knowledgeable about the products offered in the dispensaries and most of all were passionate about working in the licensed market. This is a legitimate business and roles such as these require exceptional customer service experience. When looking for employees to retain, especially those in a customer facing role, be sure to look for affable, engaging, and even better if they have prior cannabis experience for even better product recommendations.  

Business Expansion and Growth are Coming 

Another constant at each of the locations I visited was the desire and the planning of expansion and growth. Talking with staff, some said their current location was operating more or less as a “pop-up,” a temporary location which would help establish the name of the business and get customers into the door while moving to a larger location in a few months or even weeks’ time.

This is a good time to mention that each of the licensed shops are conditional adult-use retail dispensary (“CAURD”) licenses, being held by individuals with past cannabis convictions or nonprofits focused on criminal justice reform work. Some have more startup funds than others, and need the profit of cannabis first to expand and improve the overall aesthetic and design of their locations. At the very least, the hope of each of these spots will be to make improvements, add more displays, products offered, and expand in the future.  

From High Tech to Old School

There’s no right way to operate a dispensary (beyond the compliance and regulatory requirements, that is). Each location will be different and that includes what tools are available for customers and budtenders.

One location I visited utilized a lot of technology, including tablets for each of the budtenders and placed at different display spots for customers to use. This helped for a sleek aesthetic and allowed for easier product browsing and ordering, with orders that could then be picked up from the back checkout stations. Others relied on the classic paper menu for all their products listed while using a sharpie to remove sold out ones. Both get the jobs done and it goes to show, there’s no right way to operate a shop.  

Dispensary Security Matters 

Quintessential to operating a licensed dispensary will be security, given the federal prohibition with cannabis and that operating a cannabis enterprise is a very cash heavy business.

There will be checks—multiple times—for your ID to verify your age with security guards inside and outside the dispensary itself. One shop had a security guard monitoring the two ATMs as well. Cameras covered the walls of the dispensaries to adequately surveil the dispensary floor and monitor each transaction occurring. When it comes to opening up shop for any cannabis business (be it cultivation, manufacturing, or retail) security matters. 

All in all, I had a great experience visiting the licensed adult-use cannabis shops New York City has to offer. Some are more well-established than others, with some still visibly ironing out some of the kinks with opening up a new shop, but I see potential. I think that is my biggest takeaway from visiting at this phase of adult-use licensed operations (that and New York pizza + New York pot are a great combo!).

There will be highs and lows, there will be times when there’s a deluge of customers and a trickle (note—2pm on a Wednesday may be the best time to swing into a shop to avoid lines), but there’s a lot already working and more to come in the Empire State.  Be sure to check out our Guide to New York Cannabis and contact our team of New York Cannabis Consultants to become one of New York’s next great dispensaries. 

new york cannabis and pizza

My recommended pairing of New York cannabis and New York pizza.


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