Brothers Rodney Jr. and Brandon Carter had two distinctive life journeys that later merged to form the first Black-owned dispensary in the Queens, NY, neighborhood of Long Island City.

The siblings grew up in a rough area of Queens. Their father struggled with substance addiction since he was 8 years old and was later arrested and charged for a marijuana offense, while their mother battled cancer during their formative years.

“Experiencing a childhood like that can either send you two ways. It sent me down the path towards the streets and sent my brother to school,” Rodney told AFROTECH™.

Before heading to college, Rodney recalls selling marijuana. However, a conversation with his mother inspired him to make better life choices. His mother succumbed to cancer when he was 22 years old, sending him “spiraling even further out of control.” But he will never forget one moment they shared in her final days.

“She begged me to stop selling drugs while she was on her deathbed,” Rodney expressed. 

He continued, “I literally saw death on her face, and I saw the pain on her face and realized that she couldn’t let go. She was concerned about me and the rest of our siblings. So I whispered in her ear, ‘Mom. I’m gonna stop. I’m going to get my life together.’ And the next morning, she passed away from there. At this time, she was in a coma for at least a week. So, she couldn’t talk to me, she couldn’t respond, but I swear she heard what I said and felt comfort in what I said to her. It took years to kind of start figuring out my life and getting it together.”

Rodney leaned into health and fitness and established a business as a personal trainer. 

Brandon’s life choices took him down a different path. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting and explored different career options outside accounting, such as sales and banking. However, he ultimately created a pathway of financial freedom, pivoted to the tech industry, and became a software developer in 2018 after attending a boot camp in Santa Monica, CA.

“Ultimately, freedom and living life stuck with me and shaped the way I view life and how I carry myself,” Brandon explained. “Losing my mother at a young age, losing other family members, best friends, girlfriends, I felt like I just wanted to be free. So, just finding different careers kind of led me to being free. I ended up in software development because I found out I could work remotely.”

Together, Rodney and Brandon were driven to launch a business reflecting their respective interests while giving back to their hometown. For Rodney, this meant creating further opportunities in health and wellness, while Brandon aimed to boost community participation in the tech field.

To do this, they launched Trends Dispensary, a cannabis venture, in the city they love. Their father, who turned his life around following his sentence, also co-owns the business in addition to Stephan Dweck and Housing Works Inc.

For a $2,000 filing fee, the shop was able to apply to be a Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) under the NYC Department of Buildings. According to a retail dispensary guide, this license awards businesses to justice-involved New Yorkers — individuals convicted of a cannabis-related offense — and their family members. 

The Carter family got approved in 2023.

“We were able to qualify as the social equity applicant due to my father’s commission,” Brandon noted.

Photo Credit: Monica Vie Photography

Trends Dispensary will open in April 2024, and its 6,000-square-foot space will also be utilized as a community hub and event space. The founders plan to host events that educate ongoers about the benefits of cannabis and its versatile uses as well as spotlight nearby entrepreneurs and artists.

“There’s a lot of events that we are thinking of. We want to bring fashion shows to our store,” Rodney shared.

He added, “We want to bring comedy shows, a weekly series of educational events, and concerts. If possible, we can bring in different artists to do shows. We are also thinking about art galleries and exhibitions and different installations maybe on a monthly rotation. There’s a lot of cool interactive things that we’re thinking about bringing to the Long Island City community.”

Brandon shared, “Being that I’m in tech, I see a lot of stuff going on, and we want to have some virtual reality (VR) things. I’ve been recently looking into augmented reality ideas that we could do to create like that Pokemon Go craze that happened a few years ago.”

The dispensary’s impact work will be enhanced through a strategic partnership with Housing Works, a New York-based nonprofit founded in 1990 offering housing, health care and vocational training to communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs, per the organization’s website.

Trends Dispensary also plans to contribute financially to the community. Its founders pledge to donate a portion of the shop’s sales to organizations working to help the homeless, individuals with AIDS, those within the LGBTQ+ community, and formerly incarcerated individuals.

Additionally, sales will be geared to assist those looking to become social equity applicants in the future.

“Eventually, we want to help other social equity applicants open up their doors and get started in the industry. Because starting in this industry is not easy,” Brandon stated. “A lot of us don’t have the resources, the know-how, or the funds. So, being a resource for other people is definitely something we are looking into doing after we get our doors open.”