BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Coss Marte used to deal drugs at the corner of Delancey and Orchard Streets. Now, he’s opening a legal pot dispensary there, in the former Sol Moscot eyeglasses store space. He hopes to open by Sept. 13.
Downtown Manhattan has already seen more than its share of new licensed weed dispensaries (Smacked, Dazed, Housing Works Cannabis Co, Union Square Travel Agency, Gotham), sporting, in fact, the state’s highest concentration of them at five. However, none of these operators has as granular a connection to their neighborhood as Marte, who grew up on the Lower East Side.
For this first round of awarding what the state ambitiously hopes will be 100 to 200 so-called CAURD (Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary) licenses — though it’s been slow going so far — applicants (or their close family members) are required to have a past cannabis-related conviction and also a track record of running a profitable business for two years. Also eligible are nonprofits that work with and aid formerly incarcerated individuals, such as Housing Works, for example.
Marte, 37 — who is the older brother of Councilmember Christopher Marte — qualifies on both counts.
“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.”
Five blocks is, in fact, the distance from where he grew up — at Rivington and Forsysth Streets — to the new dispensary’s location. His father ran a bodega in their building, where his mother still lives today in a walk-up apartment.
“I like, literally, got locked up three blocks away from there,” he said, “and I hustled on that corner. People know me.”
Marte did three separate stints behind bars, in 1998, 2004 and 2005. In all, he was arrested nine times. In addition to drug dealing, he was sometimes busted for driving violations, such as driving with a suspended license. It wasn’t a secret that he was an active dealer, and police had their eye on him.
“I’ve been stopped 200 to 300 times,” he said. “I was stopped two or three times a day — on foot or in a car — because they knew what I was doing.”
After serving time in jail, 10 years ago Marte started up a business on the Lower East Side, CONBODY, “a nonstop, bodyweight, prison-style, fitness method.” He developed the regimen during six months in a 9-foot-by-6-foot cell in solitary confinement. Like him, the program’s instructors are formerly incarcerated individuals.
He also runs Second Chance Studios NYC, a nonprofit digital media facility that teaches former convicts audio / video skills.
Building on his brand, the new store — whose canopy was just installed this week — is called CONBUD. It’s the same name as a pot-delivery service Marte has run.
Since this past spring, when he found out that he was approved for a dispensary license, Marte has been working on the store’s business plan, design and build-out. Like other applicants, he had the option of taking a loan from the state to do the store’s build-out, but chose instead to do it himself.
“I feel we could do it — more bootstrapped and save a little money,” he told The Village Sun back in April.
“We’re working on a lot of design and storytelling,” he said back then, “and making it look very premium, talking to architects and designers, working with a Web developer and delivery.”
Part of that storytelling is about the path Marte has taken on the Lower East Side — how he arrived at this point. While some of Downtown’s legal dispensary operators hail from other parts of the city, Marte feels his personal local connection matters — and is also what sets him apart.
Remarking on other reefer retailers who lack that connection, he said, “It would be like me opening a dispensary in Bensonhurst.”
As for the product, earlier this spring, Marte visited at least a dozen marijuana farms — including Hudson Hemp, HBI, Flowerhouse and Urban Extract — to check out their operations and cannabis quality. The dispensaries’ pot is supposed to be grown here — not in California, for example — another part of the effort to build the industry here and spread its benefits locally.
To help him run the business, Marte has a chief operating officer and also a general manager. In addition, partnering with him on CONBUD are two cousins of his who operate six cigar bar lounges Uptown and in the Bronx. Another family member, a lawyer, helped him through the process of closing the deal on the lease and is helping out on other legal matters.
“It’s not just me alone,” Marte said.
Also, speaking of family, he and his wife were recently proud to welcome a new baby.
Damion Fagon, chief equity officer at the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, explained the goal of the CAURD licensing program.
“New York is the first state in the country to set building a truly equitable and inclusive cannabis industry as its North Star,” he said. “Every day we are fighting for the goals and priorities of our cannabis law to deliver opportunities to those most impacted by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.”