Mar. 30, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
Dozens of customers were lined up outside of Good Grades, Queens’ first woman-owned adult-use retail cannabis dispensary, which celebrated its soft opening in Jamaica on Thursday, March 30.
The new cannabis shop, located at 162-03 Jamaica Ave., opened its doors at 2:45 p.m., and customer Rico Brown could not wait to enter.
Brown was the first person waiting in line and told QNS it was a great day to buy marijuana from a legal establishment, which he said is “better than a fake smoke shop.”
“I’ve been smoking weed since I was 12. I love weed…it’s amazing,” Brown said. “I don’t ever feel depressed. I’m always in a happy mood and am happy for the owners because they’re actually opening up a great spot. I’m gonna purchase as much as I can. I might blow $400 to $500 today.”
Another resident said he heard about the cannabis shop’s grand opening on the news.
“It’s been a long time coming, but society has a lot of tests and this is going to be one of them,” he said. “I’m looking to see what they have…I haven’t recently smoked marijuana, but I have smoked in my lifetime.”
Peter Simicic, who has been smoking marijuana for the past 15 to 20 years, said he was looking to purchase cannabis flower, some edibles or vape cartridges.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that New York would be a state to legalize recreational marijuana, but it is pretty great that they have,” Simicic told QNS. “The way that they’re doing it with minority businesses being the ones to run it, yeah, I think it’s great for the city. It’s gonna bring a lot of tax dollars in, and it’s great for people who don’t have to buy on the streets from someone they’re unsure of.”
In addition to being Queens’ first legal cannabis shop, Good Grades is also New York state’s first woman-owned family business supported by the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund. The dispensary is operated by 26-year-old entrepreneur Extasy James and her cousin, Michael James Jr., who are both local residents.
“I’m very proud and glad to break the news to my mom and, as a family business, it’s a great opportunity for all of us,” said Extasy, who has been working on opening her own business since last year.
James Jr., an attorney who focuses on serving clients with a core value of advocating for the minority business community, said he has seen the war on drugs and its impact on the community over policing.
“Personally, we’ve lost a family member to this, and so this is really a full-circle moment to have it mean something,” James Jr. said.
The soft opening provided the family the opportunity to open on a short-term basis to fast-track sales and start generating capital for their business and then closing temporarily to allow for final construction.
The shop will help advance New York’s goals of equity in cannabis licensing, which prioritizes providing licenses to justice-involved individuals who are people with a cannabis conviction or a close relative of someone with one.
Some residents who walked by the shop on Thursday afternoon weren’t aware that a cannabis store was opening in their neighborhood. Those who were waiting in line said they heard about the shop’s grand opening on social media or the news. Customers who are 21 years of age or older were allowed to enter the shop with their ID.
The Jamaica location is part of a program to support the acquisition, design, construction and outfitting of locations for cannabis dispensaries to be operated by CAURD licensees.
The Fund is a public-private limited partnership formed to position these aspiring entrepreneurs to succeed in the newly created adult use cannabis industry. Supported by up to $50 million in licensing fees and revenue from the adult-use cannabis industry and up to $150 million from the private sector, the Fund assists justice involved individual CAURD licensees to meet the costs of establishing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries.
The CAURD license is a central pillar of the New York State Seeding Opportunity Initiative. Through the initiative, New York’s first legal adult-use retail dispensaries will be operated by those most impacted by the enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated. These dispensaries are making legal adult-use sales with cannabis products grown by farmers across New York State.
“The problem that we are fighting in the legalization of cannabis is the difference between what you can get at a smoke shop and what you can get that can be held accountable,” said Kevin Fernelis, general manager of Good Grades. “Farmers and growers took their time and went through the processes that the state required so they could give us cannabis, so the products we chose match those values. We’re making sure that value and cost is our greatest concentration.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards attended the “historic” opening of the new cannabis dispensary.
“A historic day for Jamaica Ave. [and] all of Queens! Today we celebrate New York’s first woman-owned cannabis dispensary, Good Grades,” Richards tweeted. “I know how long and hard this journey has been. How cannabis has been used as a tool of discrimination. But no more. Cheers to you, Extasy James and your cousin, Michael James, for being trailblazers. It’s a family affair in Jamaica, Queens! And we’re only getting started Be sure to stop by & support! Queens Get the Green!”