BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Another new licensed cannabis store has opened — where else? — in Downtown Manhattan, the area currently sporting the highest concentration of officially sanctioned weed outlets in the entire state.
More specifically, on the Lower East Side, at 85 Delancey St., at the corner of Orchard Street, where CONBUD, a collaboration between Coss Marte and two of his cousins, Junior and Alfredo — held its grand opening on Oct. 19.
Each of New York’s new licensed marijuana shops — there are around 11 in the city out of 24 in the whole state — has its own special character. In the case of CONBUD, the personal story of Marte, 37, is front and center.
Simply put, the native Lower East Sider used to be a drug kingpin here, on his home turf.
“My story is about growing up on the Lower East Side, getting locked up on the Lower East Side,” he said. “None of these other businesses have that connection to the community — all within a five-block radius.”
He is clear on why he did it. His family, coming from the Dominican Republic, like many immigrants, struggled to make ends meet in a tough city. He didn’t want to be poor.
He started as a young teen selling small amounts of pot in Sara Roosevelt Park. It was easy to turn a quick profit. Soon he was selling out of the Chinese Hispanic Grocery, at Eldridge and Broome Streets, hiding his drugs in the shelves as the woman behind the register would berate him. A veteran dealer retired and gave Marte his spot, and suddenly, Marte said, “I was rich.”
The story goes that by age 19, he was making $2 million a year “hustling” — selling pot and other drugs. But the cops had his number. He was arrested and did prison time.
During his first bust — at age 13 for selling a couple of nickel bags of weed in the park — his little brother, Christopher Marte, was walking with him. The future city councilmember was distraught to see his big brother tackled and handcuffed right in front of him.
On his last stint in lockup, Coss Marte realized he had to change — not only his life but also his body.
Driving around delivering to all his clients — he had thousands of numbers on multiple flip phones before the era of smart phones — he put on a lot of weight. He was able to drop the pounds through an improvised calisthenics routine, developing it while in a tiny cell in solitary confinement. Once out, he launched a bootcamp fitness program, eventually dubbing it CONBODY.
CONBUD actually is in the same building as CONBODY: The gym is on the second floor and the new cannabis place right below it. It’s a prime corner on Delancey Street, which, Marte notes, is “like the Main Street” of the Lower East Side.
“A lot of them came down” from the gym to support the store and make a purchase, he said on opening night.
The first thing you see upon entering is an illuminated wall of photos, mugshots of celebrities, all arrested for weed at some point — from Bob Marley, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney and David Bowie to Tommy Chong, Paris Hilton, Woody Harrelson, Snoop Dogg and Macaulay Culkin. In their middle is one of Marte.
Some of the merch is displayed in plastic crates — like the ones Marte sat on back when he was hustling on the corner.
CONBUD has a Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or CAURD, license for applicants with marijuana convictions.
Annette Fernandez, who was at the bash, hopes to open a licensed dispensary in Washington Heights. She called Marte a role model for so-called “legacy” pot operators.
“Coss is the story,” she said. “To me, he’s the blueprint.”