GREATER CAPITAL REGION — After years of building up his career as a professional fighter and businessman, Amsterdam-native Thomas Marcellino is once again facing the impact of his past transgressions.
And he’s content with the result.
Earlier this week, Thomas and older brother Anthony Marcellino were among six greater Capital Region recipients of licenses to sell cannabis under a program which conditionally provides those convicted or related to someone convicted of past marijuana-related criminal offenses early access to retail sales in the emerging market.
Known professionally as Tommy Gunnz, Thomas Marcellino was incarcerated for possessing marijuana back in 2007 — 14 years before the substance was legalized for recreational use statewide.
“I decided in high school … unfortunately because it didn’t work out too good for me,” Thomas Marcellino said with a laugh about getting into the pot business. “In the long run, it looks like it did.”
Thomas Marcellino, 38, went on to compete as a prize fighter in both boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA), and for the last five years has run the entertainment company CAGE123.
Anthony Marcellino, 40, works for the Montgomery County Probation Department.
“I’ve seen people get arrested for minor things that have jeopardized their well-being — jail, taking away their jobs, their relationships with their families, over something that is less harmful than a lot of prescription drugs,” said the older brother.
Both brothers plan to keep their full-time jobs while operating Amsterdam Cannabis Inc., which they plan to run out of its namesake city.
Under the conditional licensure program, license holders can let the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York select a site, recommend a new location or use an existing location without any financial support. Retail development is financed publicly and privately through the $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.
Married duo Christine and Roger Sharp of High Peaks Event Production in Saratoga Springs are also expected to reap the benefits of the fund as new Conditional Adult-use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) recipients, yet they don’t know where they’ll set up shop.
The couple initially eyed space in Wilton, but that locale quickly put the kibosh on retail cannabis development. Local governments are allowed to opt in to allowing retail cannabis sales after opting out, but not vice versa.
The majority of the Saratoga County municipalities opted out of allowing dispensaries and cannabis cafes. What’s more, finding possible locations for retail development even in cannabis-friendly zones has been tough, according to Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.
“I think we suffer in Saratoga County because we just don’t have a lot of vacant or underutilized space that fits the criteria that the state is looking for and in cases where maybe we’ve got a little bit of vacancy, the property owner for one reason or another isn’t interested in prospective tenants,” said Shimkus.
Much of the retail business is expected to come out of the county’s flagship city Saratoga Springs, providing 3% in sales tax for the municipality, 1% for the county and 9% for the state.
The city pieced together a marijuana task force late last year. Mayor Ron Kim expects to flesh out a plan for on-site consumption locations at some point this spring.
“Would we allow that on Caroline Street or in a downtown area?” posed Kim. “It’s probably something that we would have to seriously look at, but that’s the one piece that we haven’t really tackled.”
To the south, Capital District Cannabis and Wellness Inc. of Albany and Stage One Cannabis LLC. of Rensselaer are expected to open later this year.
Upstate Canna Co. entrepreneur Donald Andrews opened up what was the first store in the Capital Region last weekend in Schenectady. Upon opening up, the entrepreneur had a line meandering along nearby Union Street.
Roger Sharp, 48, is preparing himself to enter the emerging cannabis market. For the last 18 years, he’s been renting music production equipment.
“Besides hiring more people, we’re also allowing some of the employees to take more of the roles to alleviate my workload, so that I can focus more on the High Peaks Canna. business,” Roger Sharp said.
Roger Sharp was convicted of marijuana possession in 2000 after a police officer in Queensbury searched his car at a traffic stop. That mark, along with proof of High Peaks Event Production’s profitability, qualified him for the CAURD program.
“I’ve always believed in cannabis being beneficial for people and I want to continue that,” Roger Sharp said.
So far, 165 licenses have been rolled out under the conditional program, 99 of which were announced earlier this week. The Finger Lakes region is the only area temporarily barred from the process as the result of litigation.
The state hasn’t yet fully fleshed out a process for obtaining so-called regular cannabis licenses, which would significantly expand access to the pot market.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.