Battle Erupts Over Harlem Dispensary Across the Street from Apollo Theater

Battle Erupts Over Harlem Dispensary Across the Street from Apollo Theater


A battle is underway to fight a new dispensary from opening in Harlem at a site known for its place in music history.

CBS2 reports that plans are unfolding to open a dispensary in a building on 125th Street, across the street from the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

The 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID) filed a lawsuit with the New York Supreme Court. “We’ve taken this action to really create transparency and to create a channel of communication to understand why this location,” Mukaram Taheraly, chairman of the 125th Street BID, told CBS2.

According to the BID, state regulators colluded in secret in order to avoid pushback from the Harlem community, especially considering the importance of the location. “We just wanna know why the decision was taken really without consulting us,” Taheraly said.

The lawsuit also accuses the state of violating its own regulation barring dispensaries from opening within 500 feet of a school. In this case, they say the dispensary is too close to Touro College, a high school-aged school in the area. The lawsuit lists a total of 47 businesses that serve or cater to minors.

For a solution, the BID recommends that the dispensary opens inside the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, which is owned by the state, so patrons can have a secure and a safe environment.

Crain’s New York Business reports that a sign hangs at the proposed location, indicating it was recently a COVID testing center.

Residents Recognize Apollo Theater in Music History

The Apollo Theater is no ordinary location: Since the swing era, it’s been synonymous with legendary Black musicians and performers. 

Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and comedians like Richard Pryor performed often at the theater. Other artists’ careers launched at the theater including Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross & The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Jackson 5 and later Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, The Isley Brothers, and the list goes on.

This could add to the reasons locals don’t want a dispensary directly across the street.

Some residents gave a balanced response when asked about the dispensary location. 

“They will have customers that feel like this is an establishment I can really go in and feel safe,” Harlem resident Breeze Fabre said.

“If they’re giving people jobs, I might come there and work,” another Harlem resident said.

“This is perhaps [a] situation where there is no right answer, but before we go forward, I think all the major stakeholders, their positions, should be considered,” Harlem resident Muna Heaven said.

Other residents are not so happy. “That’s the worst thing they can do,” Harlem resident Brenda Balthazar told ABC7. “Like right now a lot of things are happening on the train, and not only on the train but in neighborhoods.”

While the location is a few doors down from the Lazarus Children’s Clothing Store, there is also a tattoo parlor next door, and no one’s complaining about that.

The New York Cannabis Control Board approved 99 new licenses on April 3, increasing the total provisional retail dispensary licenses for Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensaries (CAURD) to 165.

The Cannabis Control Board wrote in a press release that the “licenses included four for Western New York, one for Central New York, five for mid-Hudson, and three for Brooklyn, marking the first provisional licenses to be issued in these regions following last week’s modification of a court injunction that had prevented the Board from issuing them.”


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