We are happy to embark on an exhilarating journey, spotlighting the extraordinary members of the New York Cannabis Retail Association (NYCRA) here on stupidDOPE.com. Each narrative is distinctive, and we are delving into the experiences, challenges, and triumphs of these individuals who are shaping the future of the cannabis industry. To produce compelling interviews that resonate with our readers, we recognize the potency of open-ended inquiries.

With this in mind, we have presented the NYCRA members a set of 15 questions that have been designed to extract detailed insights and narratives. We hope we are able to present these highlights and perspectives on the evolving cannabis landscape in New York from their standpoint. This time, we presented our questions to Queens’ own Pam Nicponski of Freshly Baked NYC. Let’s get right into it.

Can you tell us about your journey in the cannabis industry, and what inspired you to become a part of it? Absolutely! Freshly Baked NYC’s founders took interest in the cannabis industry because we were excited with the opportunity to operate at the convergence of culture, science, justice, and social change. As society began to shift its perspective on cannabis, recognizing its advantages and potential for economic opportunity & growth, we felt compelled to be a part of this change and shape it meaningfully from the foundations onward.

Congratulations on your newly licensed dispensary. Share with us the name, location, and website of your dispensary. Our dispensary is “Freshly Baked NYC”, and our website is FreshlyBaked.nyc. Our retail location will be in the Bronx, and our delivery service will cover much of NYC, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and parts of Long Island.

What can you share about the vision and mission behind your venture? Per our statement, Our mission is to offer the community the highest quality, ethically-sourced cannabis products in a safe and regulated environment. We want to form transparent and trusted relationships with our customers. We get that everyone is different when it comes to cannabis so whether you’re seeking information, recreation or for simple curiosity, we want to serve the community with compassion, expertise, and a genuine desire to enhance their experience.

Our aspiration is to serve as a bridge within the community, celebrating diversity, removing stigmas, incorporating legacy industry operators and prohibition-impacted persons, and encouraging an inclusive atmosphere as we serve the community’s demand for cannabis products. We want to put effort into being more than a dispensary; we aim to be community builders, creating a space where everyone feels welcomed and well-informed. In doing so, we aim to make cannabis a more positive part of our shared experiences and positively change cultural views surrounding cannabis.

How has the NYCRA Coalition played a role in supporting your journey as a cannabis entrepreneur? NYCRA has been an important community and forum for discussion, debate, education, brainstorming, and emotional support. It’s been an inspirational place of community building, where actual and prospective retailers can answer each others’ questions, build each other up, help sanity-check each other’s ideas, and generally be supportive of each other.

The mental and emotional toll that all licensees have had to deal with has been severe. The coalition has been an essential resource for my own peace of mind throughout this process, and while the signal-to-noise ratio in the various chat rooms can vary at times, the forum is overwhelmingly populated with good people full of good intentions trying their best to support and help each other move forward. I cannot imagine trying to navigate these last several months without the coalition’s support.

Can you provide an update on the current status of your dispensary’s opening process in New York?

Yes, and it’s not the good news we’d like to provide. We, like nearly every other retail licensee, have been massively and negatively affected by the outstanding injunction against New York State in the Fiore lawsuit. This injunction has almost completely halted all progress in the industry rollout, including our own. It has resulted in property owners losing interest in leasing to cannabis businesses like ours, and to capital investors losing their confidence in investment opportunities across the state.

We are currently leasing a space and have completed the build-out for our self-founded Temporary Delivery Only (TDO) location, which is now awaiting operational approval from the state. We continue to pay out of pocket for the TDO location, and the economic consequences of doing so without revenue have started to significantly restrict our future prospects.

While we previously secured NY State approval on a retail site, and recently gained local community board support, securing the property via an executed lease has proven a challenge, especially given the uncertainty caused by said lawsuit and injunction. We have backup location options available in case our

top retail site choice fails to materialize, but the real estate market moves fast in NYC and getting the backup site secured in time to meet the application deadlines for expedited processing will present a challenge.

What is your background, and how has it influenced your approach to running a cannabis business?

Co-founder David Nicponski is FB NYC’s President & CEO. He is also the Director of Business Development on the Board of the NY Cannabis Retail Association. David comes from a career as a Principal Software Engineer with a long history in tech leadership, disruptive startups, larger tech/FAANG companies, and software engineering consulting.

David has followed the legalization efforts across states since California’s success in 1996. He realized he could expand his horizons and apply his experience to build a startup from the ground up, applying the rigor, data analysis, and optimization techniques from his Engineering career to maximize the likelihood of success and profitability for Freshly Baked NYC and its surrounding community.

Co-founder Pamela Nicponski has an accounting & CPA background, with entrepreneurial experience in income tax preparation. When cannabis was finally legalized in New York State in 2021 she began to educate herself about the regulatory and licensing process. As she developed her expertise in this industry, she saw the potential business opportunity in retail dispensaries and began advocating for the same.

Pamela oversees the creative, aesthetic, and artistic vision for FB NYC, and is eager to learn retail business operations firsthand and apply her accounting background to optimize profitability.

Co-founder John Nicponski has a mathematics and computer science background. He joined FB NYC in May 2023. After joining FB NYC, he has familiarized himself with the various regulations and intricacies of the cannabis industry. He will apply his background to help optimize and improve the operations of FB and ensure its future success.

John will help the business in its daily operations and help plan for and overcome the various barriers to opening a successful dispensary.

Collectively, we understand the “numbers game” nature of this business, and that profitability, sustainability, & optimization will be a critical component of the recipe for success and long term business viability. At the same time we understand that the community will have a positive economic impact from our success putting us in a good position to implement programs to help the community where we will be located.

Are you planning to offer delivery services, and if so, which areas of New York do you intend to service or are currently servicing? Yes. See above.

If you had the opportunity to sit down with the Governor of New York, what would you say to her about the challenges and experiences you’ve faced in the cannabis industry?

If we had the opportunity to sit down with Governor Hochul, we’d have a lot to say.

We’d begin by emphasizing the positive impacts of cannabis legalization: job creation, an explosion of new small businesses, economic growth and revenue generation, and the reduction of the tax-avoiding, crime-attracting, illicit market.

However, I would also highlight the enormous challenges that we are facing, along with some rather obvious solutions:

Firstly we’d note the long and stressful journey that CAURD licensees have traveled so far; the great amount of sacrifice, the many unfulfilled promises, the personal time and capital that licensees have invested, and the precarity of the current situation for all licensees across the entire supply chain due to the outstanding injunction. All of this danger, suffering, and extreme financial risk to innocent licensees, operating in good faith and following the guidance of the state, who are now facing complete financial ruin through no fault of their own, could be completely mitigated with the stroke of the Governor’s pen. This legislative repair was already done for the rest of the industry’s supply chain license types, but not for the retail license. The catastrophic consequences of the choice to not fix the legislative vulnerabilities during the regular legislative session have resulted in existential threat to the most vulnerable participants in the industry. Indeed, this is re-traumatizing the very victims of the state that the MRTA intended to make whole during the legalization process.

Next, we’d discuss the illicit market, and the startling lack of meaningful enforcement action to curtail it. Licensed actors are at a huge disadvantage here, since they have to pay living wages and cannabis-specific taxes, and cannot attract business via bright, flashy advertising. Illicit shops are eating up the market, diverting consumer demand and fulfilling it with out-of-state, untested, unlicensed products. This hurts every facet of the legitimate, licensed industry, and every day that they are allowed to continue to operate with impunity, thumbing their nose at the state and the licensees, the harder it will be to put that genie back into the bottle.

Lastly, we would emphasize the need for ongoing education and public safety and awareness. Cannabis is still a relatively new industry, and public perception will evolve positively if the right information and regulated products are available. The state can and should play a significant role in breaking stigmas, disseminating accurate information, promoting responsible use, steering consumers towards safe, tested products, and shuttering illicit shops.

Looking at the rollout of legal cannabis in New York so far, what aspects would you like to see changed or improved, and why?

We would like to see more enforcement action regarding the unregulated market. As of September 2023, a new report by New York City’s Independent Budget Office determined that an estimated 1,500 unlicensed retailers in the city may hold as much as $484 million worth of marijuana products. Once illicit shops are no longer a threat to the legal dispensaries (and the entire licensed supply chain), this industry will be a great source of income for the state and local communities.

Marketing restrictions also need some significant reworking. The tobacco and liquor industries are heavily regulated markets, but they can advertise without so many restrictions and they can selectively target the appropriate audience while doing so.

Also, current federal tax law does not allow for most business expenses to be written off for cannabis businesses, which results in a large portion of revenue going to taxes since the business is effectively taxed on its revenues, not its profits. Rescheduling cannabis or otherwise amending the tax laws to fix this issue would go a long way in lowering the operating costs and barrier to entry for this industry.

Can you highlight any unique features or products that your dispensary will offer to customers?

For our storefront we are looking into having an industrial design buildout. Unique features and products will remain under wraps until revealed for the opening day.

How do you envision your dispensary contributing to the local community and the overall cannabis landscape in New York?

We are internally discussing our community engagement strategy, and how particular components of the strategy will shape up. We know that establishing and publishing a community action plan is an excellent way to establish a positive presence, encourage goodwill, and contribute to the local community.

Ideas we are discussing include:

Social Equity Program, Community Education, Supporting Local Nonprofits, Cannabis Waste Recycling, Community Events, Neighborhood Beautification, Supporting Arts And Culture, Community Policing Collaboration.

Could you share a memorable experience or lesson you’ve learned on your journey in the cannabis industry thus far?

One painful lesson to learn has been this one:

In this nascent, rapidly evolving industry, with changing regulatory regime and uncertain legal threats lurking everywhere, there is significant value to becoming operational as quickly as possible. This means that over-optimization during decision making may at times lead to significantly worse outcomes, as it can unnecessarily delay decision making or delay opening entirely.

Since legal uncertainty (still) abounds, short delays can easily become long delays quickly, for reasons entirely outside of our control. Get the doors open quickly, and start generating revenues ASAP. This will become critical for your long-term success.

What are your long-term goals for your dispensary, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?

Well, long-term plans should be flexible and adaptable to evolving market conditions and regulatory changes. We have in mind these long term goals, but definitely this may need to be adjusted or changed over time.

Brand Development, Regulatory Compliance, Financial Growth and Stability, Market Research and Analysis, Strategic Partnership, Diversification of Products, Sustainability Initiatives, Community Engagement, Educational Outreach, Philanthropic Initiatives, Franchise o Multiple Locations, and a Customer Loyalty Program.

In a rapidly changing industry, how do you plan to adapt and stay competitive?

Our strategy to adapt and remain competitive and relevant is twofold:

First, make ourselves indispensable to the local community. We will support the community and its projects to the extent possible. When community members think of the community without our presence, it should feel as though a valuable and loved community member was lost. This will keep us up-to-speed with changes in the community.

Second, we’ll apply the principles of data science and engineering to our business and our decision making. Understanding the stories that our customers’ behaviors are telling us, and responding appropriately in kind as those stories evolve, will be key to staying relevant.

Is there anything else you’d like to share, whether it’s about your dispensary, your personal journey, or insights into the cannabis industry that we haven’t covered? CODIFY NYCRA! Retail licensees trusted the state and relied upon the state’s guidance and instructions. Don’t leave us with massive economic damages for trusting the state, following their instructions, and attempting to operate legally!

As we wrap up this enlightening journey into the world of NYCRA and Freshly Baked NYC, one thing is clear – the cannabis industry is a dynamic force shaping lives and communities. Pam Nicponski’s story from Freshly Baked NYC reflects passion, challenges, and a commitment to positive change. From the hurdles of licensing to community-building aspirations, each detail adds a unique flavor to the evolving cannabis landscape in New York.

As we eagerly anticipate Freshly Baked NYC‘s impact, we’re reminded that behind every dispensary is a compelling narrative, and the journey is just as important as the destination. Here’s to embracing the highs and overcoming the lows in this ever-changing, ever-fascinating industry.

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