By John Schilling
Ozone Park resident Jeremy Rivera sat at home back in April, nervously awaiting an email that could change his life as he knew it.
A three-time convicted felon on various drug charges who reinvented himself as the head of a construction company post-incarceration, Rivera sought a new beginning for himself once more. This time, Rivera hoped to become a justice-involved Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensaries (CAURD) a provisional license awardee from New York State’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), allowing him to open a legal marijuana dispensary of his own.
Per the program’s policy, an applicant needed a marijuana conviction prior to its legalization in 2021, as well as prior business experience. Rivera had both. All he needed was the license to make it official.
While Rivera was passed up during the program’s first and second rollouts, the 36-year-old got the answer he was looking for the third time around, as the email came in and confirmed he was one of 99 people across the state awarded a CAURD provisional license. This news of a lifetime sent Rivera down the path of preparing to open Terp Bros, his own legal cannabis shop, in Astoria, but little did Rivera know then that six months later he would be nervously awaiting yet another life-changing message.
After two months of court appearances and legal challenges due to an ongoing civil suit, Rivera received word last week that Terp Bros could finally open in Astoria after New York State Supreme Court Justice Kevin R. Bryant granted the business an exemption.
“We just cried,” Rivera told QNS. “It was a good feeling to know that we were leading the fight in the right way. It was a good feeling to know that the judge was acknowledging our hard work and how far we’ve come in this process.”
Originally, Rivera was set to open Terp Bros on Aug. 15 until the lawsuit came to court on Aug. 7. The plaintiffs, which included service-disabled veterans, argued that OCM and the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) had “failed to follow the clear language” of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) through the CAURD program only making “justice-involved individuals” eligible instead of all applicants.
As a result, Justice Bryant issued an injunction, which not only prevented further license rollouts but barred previous licensees, like Rivera, from opening up their dispensaries until the matter was resolved. Upon learning of the decision, Rivera joined the lawsuit as an intervenor with three other licensees to express the “irreparable harm” they were facing as a result of the decision.
At that point, Rivera and his business partner had invested over $300,000 into Terp Bros, draining their bank accounts in the process and struggling to pay bills as a result without any income due to the business not being able to open.
What came next was months of back and forth, contributing to further uncertainty for Terp Bros and other legal cannabis shops in limbo. On Aug. 11, Justice Bryant extended the injunction for two more weeks, acknowledging the harm facing CAURD licensees and urging both sides of the lawsuit to come to some sort of agreement. On Aug. 25, Justice Bryant exempted 30 cannabis store applicants from the injunction but reversed the decision the following week, ruling that the injunction would continue for all applicants because it was not clear if they had completed all the necessary inspections and requirements.
“We took that as a loss,” Rivera said. “The judge set out the pathway for what he needed to understand,” he added. “We wanted to open, and the judge wanted to know how this process works and how this process is established so we gave that to him.”
In the months that followed, Rivera, his team and the other intervenors opened up all their books and presented Justice Bryant with all the documents necessary to demonstrate they met the necessary criteria prior to Aug. 7. This includes approval from the OCM for a dispensary location, a lease agreement and Community Board approval.
Through this process, Rivera says it helped Justice Bryant understand the process while also emphasizing that they had followed the necessary steps “to a tee.”
“It allowed the judge to understand what the true irreparable harm was and who are really the true people getting screwed in this process,” Rivera added. “We had nothing to hide.”
All the while, Rivera took advantage of Terp Bros’ delayed opening to further renovate the space with new equipment and another mural to add to the store’s ambiance. Eventually, after two months, Rivera’s hard work paid off.
Terp Bros received a visit from the OCM for a general inspection on Wednesday, Oct. 4, a final step in the process to hopefully receiving the greenlight from Justice Bryant to open.
“That within itself was a victory,” Rivera said. “That in itself was a real morale-builder.”
Two days later, the green light came in the form of a letter from Justice Bryant granting Terp Bros an exemption to open while the lawsuit remains ongoing, a moment Rivera refers to as “the icing on the cake.”
Eager to open, Rivera expedited the preparation process with staff training, last-minute hiring and the last round of paperwork in time for a soft opening on Friday, Oct. 13 and the grand opening of Terp Bros on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 2 p.m.
Due to everything that transpired over the last two months, Rivera says he’s still somewhat nervous about opening, but he remains enthusiastic about seeing his work finally come to fruition next week at 36-10 Ditmars Blvd.
“We’ll be laughing and crying and hugging and doing jumping jacks,” Rivera said. “This is a lot of what we wanted to do from the beginning,” he added. “Being able to implement that and actually build that community strength and create these jobs is so fulfilling.”