A Conversation With Members Of The New York CAURD Coalition: ‘Ask Me Anything’ About NY Cannabis With Jeffrey Hoffman

Jeffrey Hoffman is a New York City-based attorney who hosts “Ask Me Anything about Cannabis Legalization in New York” each week on LinkedIn. Hoffman and NY Cannabis Insider have partnered to bring those sessions into print in a Q&A format.

Hoffman’s practice focuses on cannabis industry clients, including licensees in the adult-use market, practitioners in the medical cannabis space, and cannabis adjacent product and service providers. He has a particular interest in social and economic equity cannabis license applicants, and he also informs and assists those convicted of cannabis offenses in getting such convictions expunged from their record. He can be reached at info@420jurist.com.

The following AMA from Jan. 11 has been edited for length and clarity. Hoffman’s next AMA is on Jan. 11 at 4:20 p.m.

Jeffrey Hoffman:

This afternoon, we’re going to talk to five individuals – four of whom are CAURD applicants: Britni Tantalo, Jeremy Rivera, Roger Thomas, and Coss Marte. In addition, we have with us today one CAURD license recipient: Harry Singh. I do need to make the disclosure that Harry is one of my clients.

Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. We’re going to do a round robin question session here where we go to each person in the room and ask them to reply to a particular question. Britni, I think we’re going to start with you. First, could you tell us your name, where you are in the state and what possessed you to apply for the CAURD license?

Britni Tantalo:

I’m Britni Tantalo with Flower City Dispensary. I’m in Rochester, New York – so upstate, that would make me the Finger Lakes region. I guess what possessed me to join CAURD is that I have a cannabis conviction and I was directly impacted by the War on Drugs and racial adversity. It impacted me and held me back in a lot of ways, but I was able to overcome that and navigate and have a profitable business. I’ve been in the cannabis industry for almost a decade now. So having a wholesale company selling indoor growing equipment and supplies as well as a grocery store, selling that to the consumer. So it was the next best step for retail.

JH: Next we’re going to Coss Marte. Cos, please tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are in the state and why you applied for CAURD.

Coss Marte:

My name is Coss Marte, I co-founded CONBUD. I went after the CAURD license because I qualified. About five years ago, I was doing more advocacy work on the cannabis front – speaking on panels (I don’t know if anybody remembers Josh Weinstein when he was putting cannabis events together.) I was advocating to legalize the plant for a pretty long time, and have been using off-and-on since 1996. I’ve been in love with the plant for a while, and once they dropped the regulations I like literally moved you know, zero to 100, trying to go after this; trying to be in Harry’s position now.

JH: Next let’s go to Mr. Rivera.

Jeremy Rivera:

I’m Jeremy Rivera, co-owner of Kush Culture Industries and gourmet buds out of Queens, NY and Long Island. I am a returning citizen fresh home since 2018 off of nonviolent drug charges, including some related to cannabis. And I got into CAURD unknowingly. At the beginning of this, my best friend actually called me one day after watching Channel One News and he’s like, ‘Jeremy, I have the program that’s going to change your life.’ So I asked him I Says, ‘Joe, what would that be?’ He says, ‘they’re going to give you a cannabis license – a retail license.’

Jeffrey, I swear to you, I looked at the phone like it had two heads and I put it back to my ear. I says, ‘Joe, what are you smoking bro? Pass me some of that, because there’s no way New York State is going to give a convicted felon like myself cannabis retail license.’ And come to find out I met the criteria I was justice-involved, meaning I have the conviction. And when I came home from prison, I started a consulting business where I teach construction safety. So I’ve met those requirements. And I’ve been running with it ever since advocating on cannabis and just getting in tune with all the rest of the applicants.

JH: Roger, let’s go to you next please, sir.

Roger Thomas:

My name is Roger Thomas. I’m the COO of Mello Tymes LLC. Mello Tymes is a returning citizen, minority and woman-owned cannabis brand. Basically, I went after a CAURD because I was convinced by a fraternity brother. Just like Jeremy, my frat brother told me about New York is about to go live, and that I could get a license. I told him he was crazy, and that there’s no way New York State is going to give a black man a license. He told me to research some more. I looked into it, and saw that it is possible. And then I just went hard, hard, hard, hard.

JH: And last but certainly not least, Mr. Singh. Let’s hear from you, sir.

Harry Singh:

Thanks, Jeff, I appreciate you having me on your show, and it’s nice to see some familiar faces on the show along with me. I’m Harry Singh, I’ve been blessed to be approved for Long Island, I’m very fortunate to be in this position. And this whole program; it’s was unprecedented.

New York State is different when you look at we are seeing what’s happening with Connecticut, what’s happening with New Jersey. All these medical guys are getting the first spots in the market. I know that I’m one of the fortunate 36 right now, but, you know, Jeremy, Coss, Britni; there’s a lot of people I’ve been meeting in the last few months who are deserving folks. We are hoping New York State will pick up the pace and get it moving.

JH: Britni, I would like to actually to go to you first. I think folks will notice there’s something different about you from the other five people that are on this call. I’m not even I’m not even a CAURD recipient. So let me just limit it to you and the four other CAURD applicants. You are doubly unique as folks that have heard me talk about it before. Underneath the equity program that is going on in the state, there is both a woman owned business and a minority-owned business and a minority woman-owned business classification – actually, all three are applicable, and you fall into that third category. So I would like to hear a little bit from you, as most of the folks that were arrested and convicted for cannabis in the state where men. I would like to hear from you kind of your perspective as a minority woman-owned business owner, what has been your course through this process, and how has it made you think a little bit differently about what’s going on?

BT: It really starts with how I got into the space: 10 years ago, cannabis was much different, and at that time, it was very male dominated. I experienced a lot of adversity in terms of gaining the respect that a woman could know about cultivation and growing equipment, and things of that nature. So I really had to break down those barriers for quite a few years to just even have some leverage to have conversations with the men in the room. As time has gone on, that has evolved immensely. With the CAURD program in particular, I do believe we’re scarce. I personally know a lot of members because of the coalition and I could probably count all of them on both hands. So it’s, it’s been hard, and it’s been different to navigate. Trying to be heard, trying to have access to capital. That’s why CAURD is so critical, because women are less likely to have access to start their own money to start their own business on top of just, you know, having some footing, and business experience. So it’s been tough, but it’s unique, and we’re coming forward in all facets.

JH: Now let’s move on to Coss; and Coss, I want to learn a little bit about your background, particularly the business that you formed while you were incarcerated.

CM: I formed my previous business right after I came home. I went into prison, and was sentenced to seven years in early 2009. When I came home, I started the idea of CONBODY, which hires people coming out of the prison system to teach fitness classes. So this was all derived from my personal experience where I managed to lose over 70 pounds in six months while I was incarcerated. Doctors in there told me that if I didn’t start exercising or eating correctly, that I could probably die of a heart attack. I was placed on this collection of cholesterol medications, and I basically started moving my ass because the food and the prison system wasn’t so good. And I just kept doing it.

Then I started this whole program in the yard. It was not even a real program, it was just a camaraderie that we developed to hold each other accountable. For those who have been upstate or any type of prison, you always have your workout buddies. What I did was workout with a group of men, and I helped over 20 inmates lose over 1,000 pounds combined. We did running, a whole bunch of calisthenics, push ups, pull ups, dips, all types of stuff.

While I was sitting in solitary confinement, that’s when I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I came home. I wrote out a business plan behind it, and when I came home, I started doing what I wrote, you know, and started from teaching classes in the park to renting out little small studios to hiring my first employee – who was incarcerated – and and today we’ve hired, between all my businesses, over 70 people coming out of the prison system. We still maintain a zero recidivism rate.

Working on job placement, I help people with whatever resources they need, you know, whether it’s housing, clothing, food; if I’ve got it, I’m going to give it to you, and I’ll figure it out. And if we don’t got it, I’m going to figure it out. That’s the same concept that I’ve been able to approach the cannabis space with this CAURD Coalition. It is like, hey, whoever doesn’t have this information, we’re going to share with somebody else, this person knows this person is going to tell me. So we’ve been piggybacking and learning from each other, and it’s been an incredible resource, and in a safe haven for all of us. We’re just just sharing all the information that we need, especially for people that have received licenses. They’re giving us the information that we’re going to be facing in the future. It’s been a crazy, wild journey. I know a lot of us dream about shit that’s happening in the OCM every night. We’re, we’re tense, but we’re excited, and we’re ready to really start this industry right. I think the group that we have right now really wants to set the market right, do it right, and set the trend right, you know, and that’s the goal.

JH: Jeremy, I believe you said you were in this position as far as being incarcerated, and then coming out and making a life for yourself after incarceration, and then following on with your success in business to then be able to apply for this cannabis license. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your experience?

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JR: Again, I’m a returning citizen, I was released in 2018. I have a total of three convictions or nonviolent drug related cases stemming back from 2006. Funnily enough, in 2017, I was in a facility called Walk Hill where I actually got to meet Coss Marte; he was part of an entrepreneurship program that came to the prisons. So that’s how I met Coss originally before he even knew who I was before we got into CAURD.

But I was released in 2018. I got into construction and I found myself into safety, compliance and construction. I became an authorized OSHA instructor in New York City Department of Building Safety instructor, my construction health and safety technician to the board of certified safety professionals – all licenses in which I was originally denied, but appealed and won the decisions. Getting into cannabis was almost really surreal. As I said earlier, I wasn’t expecting New York State to roll out a program that was enlisting former convicts, people that were convicted of cannabis crimes. And then on top of that, and upon my release in 2018, by 2019, I had already opened my first LLC. So I met that criteria. So that was really amazing.

Through this whole process, you know, there’s a lot of strangers that became friends and there are a lot of friends that became family just in this group here between Roger, Harry, Britni. I also always say Jason, Britni and Jason from flowers, city and cars. We’ve become a small family. We started the New York CAURD Coalition, almost in the same group just ping pong information that we were receiving on a day to day to each other almost sometimes faster than the OCM was releasing it. And the group grew every day exponentially, we were gaining new members and we were gaining new members and we got together, and we just formulated it to become what it is now the official New York CAURD Coalition.

As Coss says, we’re a big network of family through CAURD, making sure that the resources we each have moves down the pipeline to each other. Again, New York State is really big. For a lot of us, when we think of the cannabis infrastructure and industry, we think of downstate, we think of New York City. But Britni is up in Rochester, we have the capital region in Albany, we have so many regions upstate, that people aren’t getting the information firsthand. So we’ve been able to help that with our chat, and our resources. And again, we’re just ensuring that once this whole beginning phases are done, because they will be right, everything will be in the past one day, in the next 510 years, we’re still going to be the driving force in the retail business, making sure that we’re not over swallowed by incoming organizations and multi state operators that have the big money that are going to be able to buy us out.

So the CAURD Coalition is basically formulated to ensure that we’re protecting each other, not only CAURD, but justice involved in social equity applicants who are going to come later on. And we’re just becoming a big family. Jeff, you’re involved, you’re your big brother, you know.

JH: I really appreciate that. Jeremy, I think I’ve said before, how humbling it is to have had this group, embrace me the way they have. So thank you for that. I really do. Roger, let’s go to you. Let’s hear a little bit of background. I think you’ve heard from Jeremy and Coss, let’s hear a little bit similar if you’re willing to share about kind of your background and how you came to this.

RT: I’m just the guy behind Mello Tymes putting everything together. So at first, when the OCM came out with this, the justice-involved criteria, I was one of the people who just didn’t like it – I was upset about it. You have to have two years of business experience, or they’re going to kick us out. And then I started meeting legacy operators, who were making thousands of dollars a month, and those same legacy operators were making money, but didn’t know what a business business was. They didn’t know what EIN numbers are, they didn’t know what a balance sheet is; and then I understood why the OCM put the two-year criteria.

Basically, the the coalition came on board after we submitted our application, and this coalition is going to help us survive and have longevity – if we get approved – because we don’t want the OCM to look bad. Let’s say they give out 50 licenses and 35 and fail, because they didn’t know what they were doing. You can’t give legacy operators a key to a turnkey business, because they don’t know what they’re doing. So with the coalition, we’re going to prevent a lot of stuff like that from happening.

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