If the bodegas of New York City can sell beer and cigarettes, then they should also have the right to sell marijuana, as well — this is the sentiment coming from market owners across the five boroughs. Bodega owners are fighting for the opportunity to get in on legal weed before the state’s legislative wheels start hashing out the details of what this scheme should look like in America’s largest city.
Last week, the United Bodegas of America announced a desire to capitalize on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to legalize marijuana statewide. The organization said it wants to use the state’s drug reform measure as a way to stop the “drug peddling outside of these bodegas” and “bring them inside.”
The goal of this push, of course, is to put more money into the hands of the more than 15,000 bodegas operating citywide, providing more jobs and larger salaries for some 100,000 people employed in these stores. “Allow us to become a wholesaler,” United Bodegas of America spokesman Fernando Mateo said in a press conference. “In other words, let us cut out the middle man.”
Can I Get, Uh…
It’s only fair to let them in on the action, bodega owners argue.
For years, dope slingers have been using the foot traffic coming in and out of these popular corner markers to move black market bud. It is a situation that has rubbed store owners the wrong way for decades – not because they’ve maintained any moral opposition to marijuana, but because they’ve seen drug dealers profit more than they can do legitimately.
So, if the state is going to legalize weed, store owners think that it should finally be their time to get a cut.
“We have battled with people selling marijuana for decades in front of our stores. We have seen thousands being arrested for selling marijuana in front of our businesses,” UBA president Radames Rodriguez said in a statement, according to NBC New York.
“Bodega owners need increased revenue to survive, we have paid our dues,” he added.
Cuomo is pushing to make marijuana legalize part of the state’s budget, which comes around again in April. The plan is to get the ball rolling in an effort to open up legal weed commerce sometime in the early part of 2020.
A Question of Equity
Bodega owners are concerned that the majority of the newfound weed business will be given to the whiter shade of the population, leaving black and Hispanic-owned stores and their communities without a piece of the pie. The cannabis industry “should be shared with the underdogs,” Mateo says.
Part of Cuomo’s plan is supposed to put marijuana businesses into the hands of minorities and women. Yet United Bodegas of America is worried that their part of the business world doesn’t fit into the state’s definition of “minority-owned.” Therefore, the union wants to drive it home with the governor that bodega owners should be given equal — if not more — consideration in the pot business, since they are already the teeth of the beast that has serviced New Yorkers since the beginning.
“There is no question that responsible, safe-haven bodegas should get first cracks at providing people that choose to smoke marijuana with a local place to buy it,” Rodriguez said. “We are licensed and qualify to sell beer. Why not include us in the marijuana package?”
There is some concern that bodegas cannot be trusted to sell marijuana up to the same standards as dispensaries. These establishments have been known to distribute synthetic forms of the drug, known as K2 and Spice, which are dangerous and illegal. Some people are worried that distributing marijuana in corner markers will allow it to be sold to minors.
However, union representatives attribute these unsavory practices to only a select few corrupt stores. Mateo wants these types of operations to lose their license, opening that territory up to stores that can abide by the law. But when it comes to selling marijuana, he says most bodegas will walk the line.
“We will follow the rules, the regulations and we will make sure that none of that is broken. But allow us to be part of a new industry that is coming into the city.” Mateo said.
TELL US, would you buy marijuana from a bodega?