One evening, around A month later, I met C in downtown in a four-story apartment block built in 1910. There was a free-standing ATM in front and a sign for a members-only cannabis club. The building itself is home to two cannabis businesses – the club on the ground floor, run by an old operator who has been selling cannabis illegally for 15 years, and the “house grow” upstairs. The house of growth is where C. “My main goal is to have nothing but a New York product,” he said. He wants to support the local industry, from seeds to smoke, with farmers, pickers, and rollers from the city, in part because he doesn’t think users elsewhere in the country appreciate the growth history of the black market in New York. For example, it is believed that the diesel sour breed originated in New York. When he arrived in Miami, when Si was a teenager, it was the only type of cannabis he smoked. “I have great respect for the New York farmers and great respect for the game here. And it really is an honor to be a part of all of this.” Although he wasn’t sure how many places there were in the city like the Midtown Grow House, he guessed that the number could be in the hundreds. “Only in Chinatown alone, this is where most of the country gets its old school Bubba,” he said. “The black and underground market extends beyond anyone’s imagination.”
This growing home has occupied the living rooms of two one-bedroom apartments. Danny (who goes along with Danny Live) started the process two years ago. He showed me 26 plants in my back apartment, which he expected would produce 12 pounds of cannabis every 10 weeks. Each plant, about three feet high, had its own pot, with a sticky tape label identifying its strain—Cherry Lime Runt or Joker’s Candy, for example—and phenotype. Danny was reluctant to show me the plants in the front apartment because they hadn’t done so well: the employee who was looking after them had mistakenly pruned them too far. While sharing C. plants, the last two variables Danny controls on his phone.
A growing home is just one part of Danny’s business. He owns a farm in Oregon, where he holds a license to grow medicinal cannabis, and a streetwear store on Staten Island, where he lives. When I asked Danny and C. How they met, they both laughed. They couldn’t remember at first but then traced their relationship back to the cannabis expert who posted about Danny’s events on Instagram.
Danny tells me his latest goal is to tackle the void across the country: quality pre-rolls. “Pre-contaminated rolls are on the national market because most people use their garbage material – their ends, their trim,” he said. He wanted to produce 1,400 rolls a day to sell in bulk for $5 each. He just spent a full shift that day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., working his staff with, in his words, “cannolis roll.” The plants, all female, will eventually be pruned and harvested in July.
When Danny closed the apartment, he whispered to the plants, “See you later, I love you girls.” As he is deeply invested in weeds—he’s 33 years old but has 18 years in the industry so far—he’s keen that everything is officially legal. “I can’t wait for my front focus, which will be lit,” he said. Danny doesn’t mind talking about his work in public. He has already participated in several groups that have applied for licenses to grow and sell cannabis, and is confident in his prospects. One of the projects will be headquartered in a former bank in the nearby suburb of White Plains. At one point he found himself with the mayor of White Plains. “I’m a Puerto Rican from New York City sitting in the mayor’s office, and I’m pushing weed,” Danny told me, describing their encounter. Mayor asked Danny about his role in the company. Danny said he told him about his industry experience and added, “I’m the one who checks every box on social equality.”
“We’re trying to build membership and making it the best way we can without ever stepping on anyone’s toes,” S. and C. say. It’s a delicate balance, he points out, in trying to honor the work of the activists who helped pass cannabis legalization in New York while also benefiting from the market it creates. The question of justice concerns them. “Cannabis has a deep and dark history,” he says, referring to racial disparities in arrests for urban cannabis possession. I saw her firsthand. “I come from Miami, so I get it. I want to make sure we do it a certain way.”
After Danny left, C told me that he and S were dealing with what they were earning from their New York business. All gifts, events, rent, employees, taxes – it all adds up. Total sales were high, as were the costs of expanding their business. While their 4/20 party was a festive occasion, they had just paid an extraordinary sum to the government. Their business may operate in a legal gray area, but they are still subject to state and federal taxes, and they cannot claim any write-offs.