A Brooklyn resident has filed a complaint against Housing Works Cannabis, LLC, the state’s first operational legal adult use cannabis shop, for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Cannabis Wire has learned.
Rasheta Bunting is a “visually-impaired and legally blind person who requires screen-reading software to read website content” according to the complaint. Bunting filed the class action complaint against Housing Works for their “failure to design, construct, maintain, and operate their website to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Plaintiff and other blind or visually-impaired persons.”
Housing Works Cannabis Co., located in a former Gap Store in downtown Manhattan, was the state’s first legal Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licensee to open its doors. The shop’s opening on Dec. 29 made national headlines.
Bunting visited Housing Works Cannabis Co’s website “for purposes of making a purchase,” including “Back Home Cannabis Company – G-13 and the Florist Farms – Banana Runtz – 3.5g.” Bunting is also a “‘tester’ for the purpose of asserting” civil rights and “monitoring, ensuring, and determining whether places of public accommodation and/or their websites and apps are in compliance with the ADA.” Bunting has previously taken on other entities for issues related to accessibility, from the New York State Board of Elections to New York-based hemp companies.
Housing Works Cannabis Co., Bunting noted in the complaint, needs to make fixes to their website so that visually-impaired New Yorkers can navigate the site without assistance. For example, when Bunting tried to add items to their cart, it was unclear whether they had actually been added because Bunting didn’t receive a voice prompt. Bunting also couldn’t close the shopping cart window, couldn’t find the search function, and was unable to fully complete the checkout process.
The site, Bunting concludes, “contains thousands of access barriers that make it difficult if not impossible for blind and visually-impaired customers to use the website. In fact, the access barriers make it impossible for blind and visually-impaired users to even complete a transaction on the website.”
Cannabis Wire has reached out to Bunting’s lawyer and Housing Works Cannabis Co. and will update this story with comment.
While this is the first complaint against a licensed adult use entity, a lawsuit challenging the CAURD application process (Variscite NY One, Inc. v State of New York; New York State Office of Cannabis Management; and Chris Alexander) has prevented regulators from awarding licenses in five regions: Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson, and Brooklyn.
This lawsuit is ongoing. And, such lawsuits in other states have led to significant delays in adult use rollouts. In Illinois, for example, lawmakers aimed to create a “gold standard” for equity, as Cannabis Wire reported. But while adult use sales began in 2020, no equity licenses were awarded until 2022 due to lawsuits challenging how licenses were awarded. The industry there is currently dominated by multistate operators that were already selling medical cannabis in the state, like Cresco and Curaleaf. (In New York, existing medical cannabis operators will be able to sell to adult use consumers, too, but regulators are awarding the first retail licenses, the CAURDs, to “justice-involved” applicants.)