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He was arrested twice for marijuana possession. Now, he's starting over with a dispensary license


This week, 36 applicants in New York state learned they would be allowed to open stores to sell cannabis for recreational adult use. The state gave priority to people who'd been arrested for a marijuana-related offense when the substance was still illegal in New York, a move that's intended to correct for discrimination in the past. One of those recipients is Matthew Robinson, a 36-year-old Black business owner in Troy, near Albany. He was arrested twice for marijuana possession and later served 12 years for his involvement in a robbery of a convenience store. He joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Robinson.

MATTHEW ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You already own Bold Mold Eliminators, which is a mold removal service. What made you want to open a cannabis dispensary, too?

ROBINSON: I see an opportunity, you know, to do something right, you know? This is a big opportunity. It's a big thing. So I decided, you know, to put my name in the hat and possibly get it because I know it can impact my family, my community.

SIMON: You were arrested for possessing marijuana in 2005. You were 19?

ROBINSON: Yes, sir.

SIMON: How much marijuana?

ROBINSON: At the time, I think it was just a couple of bags.

SIMON: What happened?

ROBINSON: So, I was actually coming from a friend's job, walking to another friend's house. And there was a mall there called Crossgates Mall. So as I'm just walking, the cops just swarmed on me. You know, they grabbed me up. They took me off to the car. They handcuffed me. They didn't really give me any information on what was going on. So I don't know anything. You know, they pat me down. They find the marijuana. They lock me up. They take me back to the mall to like, a small room. And they tell me that there's a big fight at the mall, you know?

But at the end of the day, they found out that I wasn't involved in the fight. But now I got these two bags of weed. And it's like, OK, now you - you know, you got to go to jail for this. And you got to get in an appearance, taken - now, you got to go to court - all this stuff or something, you know, that's just minor to me at that time. I'm like, oh, it's not that serious. But, you know, they locked me up for it. They've made me pay a fine and do, like, a health and community thing. And that was what I had to do for that first one, so...

SIMON: Yeah. You were arrested a second time for weed?

ROBINSON: Yeah. So I got arrested a second time. I was riding in the car with two of my friends. And a cop just pulled me over. He come to the car, asked for my driver's license. Then, he said he smelled weed in the car. So, hey, now we got to get out the car, and he's searching the car. You know, I had a dime bag on me, something small at that time. It wasn't a lot, so...

SIMON: Well, I have to ask, you know, why did you have it on you that second time? You'd already learned what a problem it could be.

ROBINSON: Young. Not knowing, like - you know, not really understanding laws and how everything works. You know, you hear about laws. You know these things. And they tell you this. But coming from where I come from, you're doing whatever you can to make some extra money. You know, when you're struggling and everybody around you has nice clothes and they're doing this and doing nice things and here you are - you know, your shoes' got holes in them. You know, you don't want to walk around with stuff like that. So, you know, you sell weed to make some extra money, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. Well, now you've got this license. What do you want to do with this cannabis dispensary?

ROBINSON: I want it to be successful, you know? I want it to run properly. I want to make New York proud. I want, you know, people to know, like, you know, we came from a time when cannabis was taboo and totally against all, like, the rules and regulations. But now we're at a point where people are starting to see, OK, cannabis isn't this horrible thing that's destroying worlds and stuff like that. So I just want to be successful with this and keep going. And, you know, the sky's the limit. Who knows what's going to happen in the future?

SIMON: Yeah. I have to ask, Mr. Robinson, do you feel you're getting this license to be - I don't know - a way of righting a wrong in the justice system?

ROBINSON: Yes. I think New York State has done a great job with their legislation, the way they've been moving forward to try to sort of fix errors from the past. So the way they did it for me, I think it was the right way. Regardless whether I got the license or if I didn't, it'd still be the right way because they're expunging records. You know, they're doing stuff to try to actually fix it, you know? But at the end of the day, you know, when you lock somebody up for a day, that person cannot get their day back. Their kids don't get it back. So they're doing a great job. It's good headway. It's got to keep going. The state is doing great. I'm so proud of saying I'm from New York.

SIMON: Matthew Robinson has received one of New York state's first cannabis dispensary licenses. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROBINSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.