Brooklyn’s first Black woman-owned dispensary opens in Park Slope, Adams vows to crack down on illegal sellers

Adams at opening of Matawana dispensary in Park Slope
Officials celebrated the opening of Matawana Dispensary, the first Black woman-owned legal cannabis dispensary in Brooklyn, on Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Brooklyn’s first dispensary owned by a Black woman opened in Park Slope on Thursday as honor Mayor Eric Adams pledged to crack down on illegal weed stores in New York City.

Adams joined East New York resident Leeann Mata to celebrate her new shop, Matawana Cannabis Dispensary, at 5th Avenue and 14th Street. Matawana is the sixth legal dispensary to open in Kings County after the state resolved a long legal battle that held up licensing — the borough’s first legal retail marijuana store opened in Gravesend just over two months ago. 

“I am encouraged to see the quickening pace of legal retail dispensary openings in the city and thank our colleagues at Cannabis NYC and the Office of Cannabis Management for all that they are doing to support the growth of the local market,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer, in a statement.

leeann mata dispensary opening
Leeann Mata said her family was unfairly impacted by cannabis prohibition. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York’s cannabis law prioritizes leveling the field for people most impacted by marijuana prohibition — which includes Mata and her family. 

Her father was assaulted and arrested for marijuana offenses, Mata said at a press conference on Thursday, and three of her five brothers also have past marijuana charges as a result of stop-and-frisk policies.

“We were just college students with anxiety, and wanted a way out,” she said. “We also wanted a way to not have to take medication but use natural herbs.”

Matawana’s website is stocked with marijuana flower, pre-rolls, edibles and infused drinks, and topical THC balms meant to soothe aching muscles and moisturize skin. 

Mata has hired 21 young employees, she said, and was glad to be able to offer them a living wage and a means to support their families. 

“Draconian prohibition laws cost my family almost everything, but the plant itself is a healing herb,” Mata said in a statement. “When it became legal, I used it to treat my anxiety and created formulations that helped my mother with pain and helped her conquer an opioid addiction. I have been able to support elders with homemade CBD creams.”

Opening the store on the last day of Black History Month showed that the city is “taking steps to right the wrongs of the past by supporting equitable growth in the legal cannabis industry,” Adams said. But celebrating new dispensaries isn’t enough.

“We must also close down the illegal operators that threaten the success of legal shops and put the safety of our communities at risk,” he said. “We have been clear in our call to state lawmakers to give us the power to shut down illegal smoke shops, and we will continue to work with Governor [Kathy] Hochul and all our partners in Albany who are fighting to give us this authority.”

Though recreational marijuana was legalized in New York State in March 2021, the first legal dispensary didn’t open in New York City for more than a year, in December 2022. The rollout was even slower in the outer boroughs.

In the meantime, hundreds of “gray-market” weed stores bloomed all over the city, taking advantage of legal loopholes that made cracking down on the businesses hard. Now that legal dispensaries are opening, owners and customers are frustrated by the illegal shops, which largely sell unregulated products. 

marijuana items at park slope dispensary
Adams said the city must crack down on illegal dispensaries to support legal businesses. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Since the city’s first legal dispensary opened, officials have ramped up enforcement — police have confiscated massive amounts of marijuana from grey-market stores and forced others to close altogether – but the city is still fighting for the authority to inspect and shut them down. 

The New York City Sheriff’s Office has seized more than $29 million in “illicit products”  from illegal dispensaries and found that 92% of shops it inspected were violating the law, said Sheriff Anthony Miranda on Thursday. 

“The Sheriff’s Office will continue to work with our partner agencies at the direction of Mayor Adams to conduct inspections of unlicensed smoke shops so the legal market can thrive,” Miranda said. “As we protect our children and families from these unregulated products, we encourage those that do participate in this market to shop at a licensed location where the products are regulated and safe.”