Brooklyn Boro

After pot conviction, Brooklyn-raised man, wife prepare for their dream: A marijuana dispensary

April 27, 2022 Claudia Torrens, Associated Press
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Eladio Guzmán spent two years in jail for selling drugs, missing the birth of his first child. Cannabis is part of his tumultuous past, but a year after New York State legalized possession and use of marijuana, it could be his future. He’s eager to open a recreational dispensary.

“I did time, we suffered,” said the 44-year-old union steamfitter, who grew up in Brooklyn’s East New York and spent time in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park , sitting beside his wife at the dining table of his Long Island home. “This is an opportunity for me to take the negative that I did and actually help me do something positive.”

His wife Melissa Guzmán also experienced the war on drugs: Several relatives arrested. An uncle who spent a decade in jail. His eventual deportation to the Dominican Republic. 

Now, as New York develops regulations for how a person or business can apply for a dispensary license, the Guzmáns are studying the industry as they wait for an application to open a cannabis shop in Queens.

They don’t expect to get one of the first 100 retail cannabis licenses the state plans to reserve for people with marijuana-related convictions. That’s because the Guzmáns don’t meet some of the requirements, like having at least a 10 percent ownership interest in a business that ran a net profit for two years.

Still, they’re not too concerned, since they qualify as “social equity” applicants. Melissa Moore, director of Civil Systems Reform at the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, said the state appears to genuinely have the aim of furthering the social equity components of the law that were passed last year.

“I think it’s an important first step: To be very clear that people who have been criminalized for cannabis in the past can and should be able to participate in the market in New York,” Moore said.

The Guzmáns have joined the newly formed Latino Cannabis Association and are traveling to cities like Boston to visit dispensaries for business research.

“We are being very intentional in making sure that we find social equity applicants, Latinos, that understand our vision of community and helping our community and building generational wealth,” said Jeffrey Garcia, president of the association.

When Eladio Guzmán grew up in East New York, his father had a convenience store. He said he became attracted to “the street life.”

“I thought, ‘Wow these guys are making so much money, wearing gold teeth.’ … That was hip. And my father is killing himself waking up every morning at 6 o’clock to go open this business,” Guzmán said.

He drove a taxi but also sold marijuana, cocaine, crack or ecstasy pills. “Whatever it was I was able to get my hands on,” he said.

In 2007 he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute. He was about to get married to Melissa, so she put up the deed to her family’s home to bail him out. 

After fighting his case for a year, he was sentenced and entered the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2008.

Now the couple have three children. Melissa, 38, is an insurance adjuster and Guzmán a foreman at Steamfitters Local 638. Their days are filled with working, taking their kids to after-school soccer practice and learning about the cannabis industry.

They say owning a dispensary would improve their lives and provide a better future for their children. They also say they hope to give back to their community with their profits.

“Maybe we could help redo the parks nearby, or repair the sidewalk of a neighbor, make a street look better or provide for shelter homes that may be needed in the community,” said Melissa Guzmán. 

New York aims to provide 50 percent of licenses to marijuana entrepreneurs who are women or minorities, struggling farmers, disabled veterans and people from communities that endured heavy marijuana policing.

“I think cannabis is the next bitcoin opportunity, especially for us minorities,” Eladio Guzman said.


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