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Comedy, Cannabis, Compassion

On an overcast Tuesday evening at the end of September, hundreds of Amy Sedaris fans stood in line outside the Union Square Travel Agency—the third legal cannabis dispensary to open in Manhattan—for a chance to meet Sedaris, whose resume includes roles in Strangers with Candy, BoJack Horseman, and The Mandalorian. Fans braved the clouds and light rain in a line that stretched around the block, to purchase their cannabis from the dispensary’s first celebrity guest “travel agent,”—what the store calls their budtenders.

The Union Square Travel Agency, opened in February 2023, and is proud to be a BIPOC-founded company in partnership with The Doe Fund. The Doe Fund is a non-profit institution that has helped nearly 30,000 people of color, low-wage workers, and people who have experienced homelessness or incarceration achieve upward mobility by providing housing and combining it with paid work, career training, and other supportive services.

Sedaris said she was excited to do a guest shift at the dispensary in large part because of the shop’s partnership with The Doe Fund.

“The money goes to a good cause,” Sedaris said. “Something good is coming out of it. At least I know that this place is safe. It’s New York-grown. It goes to a good cause. And it’s in my neighborhood.”

John McDonald, the executive vice president of The Doe Fund and son of its founder, George T. McDonald, told High Times that his father anticipated a future involvement in cannabis.

“My father actually helped [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo write the legislation and he always predicted that there would be a dispensary, that we would run a dispensary, and I thought he was crazy,” McDonald said. “But it turned out that he was right. He passed on two years ago, unfortunately, but he was behind all this. And the way that they wrote the legislation was supposed to be that the people impacted negatively, by incarceration, were going to profit from the sales of the cannabis.” 

When asked if he was satisfied with that aspect of New York’s legal program, McDonald expressed promise in the partnership.

“It’s going great for us,” McDonald said. “I think it’s a great idea. The rollout’s been slow but I just think [that’s] because the folks that got the licenses didn’t necessarily have the means to be able to put it in production. And they didn’t necessarily have the loans. You know it’s a very hard business when you think about what it takes to be successful in this. So we were lucky to be able to partner, a public-private partnership, where we could collaborate and we share half of the proceeds that go to people in our program.”

Union Square Travel Agency CEO Paul Yau said what attracted him specifically to work with The Doe Fund was their prior long-standing relationship.

“We’ve had a relationship through one of our advisors, with The Doe Fund for decades, so it was a natural fit,” Yau said. “And we’d actually partnered with them before the CAURD (Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary) licensing program came out. So when the CAURD program came out [requiring the first NY cannabis businesses to be owned by justice-involved individuals] we just pivoted that relationship. So we always wanted to do something with The Doe Fund in cannabis. We just never knew it was going to be in such a big way.”

McDonald said the partnership with the Union Square Travel Agency has been beneficial. 

“We’re a $70 million dollar company, so say we get $3 million a year from this, or whatever it is, it’s a small part of our budget, but a very needed and very helpful part of it,” McDonald said.

“It’s unrestricted money but we try to put it in the pockets of the guys affected by this. But this is really a forward way to think. It helps lift all boats instead of one boat.”

With a design aesthetic resembling a cross between an Apple Store and a mid-20th century airport terminal, Yau is proud of what his store has been able to accomplish so far and looks forward to the industry growing.

“I think more stores are actually great for the industry,” Yau said. “There’s still so many illicit stores here, more legal stores just means more legal market growth. We feel very good about where we are. We have a beautiful store. And with 40 hours of off-site classroom training and continuing education from brand presentations at least two to three times per week, we probably have the most educated budtenders in the market. It helps them to engage with the customers. And proximity to public transit with Union Square right there, all helps to retain customers.”

But one demographic where customer growth could be improved is with women, who are underrepresented amongst the in-store shoppers at many dispensaries, and Yau hopes that the event with Sedaris could help counter that trend.

“We’re really in the first innings of New York cannabis and the majority of our customers are male,” he said. “And so what we’ve really wanted to do was try to activate more female customers and Amy’s perfect for that.”

Sedaris said she started reading High Times decades ago, giving her the experience necessary to be a budtender at the travel agency.

“I’m a sativa person,” Sedaris said. “I smoke. I’ll do edibles but I don’t like to take too many—I’m afraid of the dosage. So I prefer smoking it and rolling my own joints.” 

One of her favorite things to do while high was come up with ideas with her brother, humor writer David Sedaris.

“We would come up with these plays together and he would take notes,” Sedaris said. “But he never wrote high. He doesn’t get high anymore and I really miss that because when the two of us were high together, man, nothing made me laugh harder than that. I like getting high and laughing really hard. Getting high with someone funny? God, there’s nothing better.”

And what would her most famous characters think about Sedaris doing a shift as a guest travel agent? She quickly replied, “They all get high. All my characters get high.”

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

The post Comedy, Cannabis, Compassion first appeared on High Times.

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