First NYC weed dispensary helmed by Black woman opens

The opening of the storefront in a popular Queens shopping hub felt surreal for Extasy James — whose father was deported for a cannabis-related offense — and her cousin co-owner.

One of the first six marijuana dispensaries to operate in New York State has open doors in Jamaica, Queens, cementing its place in history by being the first run by a Black woman.

Last Thursday saw the debut of the Good Grades cannabis dispensary on Jamaica Avenue, owned and operated by Extasy James and Michael James Jr., who are cousins. According to NBC News, the James kin obtained their license through the state’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licensing program, which is only open to those previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes and their family members.

Extasy James said she felt a lot of love from everyone during the storefront’s grand opening in Jamaica’s popular shopping hub, calling it a refreshing, fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Extasy James (above) is co-owner of Good Grades cannabis dispensary with her cousin, Michael James. It is the first dispensary to open in New York City’s Jamaica, Queens neighborhood. (Photo: Screenshot/ News)

“We want to inspire the community that there are second chances and that dreams can come true,” she said, according to NBC. “Anything is possible.”

In another historic first, Good Grades is also the only woman-owned dispensary launched under the New York State Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, which provides refurbished retail spaces.

Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president, became the first customer in Good Grades when he bought gummies, marking what Michael James called a “pivotal moment” for the business.

“It was very ideal,” Extasy James said, NBC reported, “and I think it killed a lot of stereotypes.”

Jamaica is situated at the center of three police precincts — the 105th, the 103rd and the 113th — and the Jameses’ dispensary represents a significant shift for the neighborhood. Before recreational marijuana became legal in 2021, racial disparities were evident, as the primarily African American and Latino community there experienced disproportionate cannabis criminalization. 

The 84th Precinct, which contains whiter, wealthier areas, had 136 complaints but only 56 arrests, in contrast to South Jamaica, which had 281 marijuana complaints and 280 arrests, according to a 2018 Manhattan D.A.’s Office report, NBC said. 

Michael James, an attorney and legal advocate for minority business owners, initially assisted his customers with cannabis license applications. However, he chose to apply with his cousin because his family members have dealt with the criminal justice system.

Extasy James, whose own father got deported for a cannabis offense, recalled seeing families torn apart by similar charges while growing up in the Bronx and visiting relatives in Queens. 

“There’s a lot of families, even grandmas and grandpas, where they didn’t make enough money,” she said, according to NBC. “So they would sell cannabis on the side” and get in trouble.

For Michael James, whose father also operated a business on Jamaica Avenue, opening the dispensary close to his childhood home represented a full-circle event.

He expressed optimism that the dispensary could serve as a good role model by educating customers and working with nearby nonprofit organizations to hold giveaways and community drives.

Marijuana has gone from “being literally a tool to overpolice our communities to now a tool of economic prosperity,” said Michael James, NBC reported. “The window of opportunity for poor, Black and brown communities, minority communities, to now benefit from it is just substantial.”

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