New York Times
Shops selling weed have proliferated since the state legalized cannabis last year, thriving in confusion over their legality and a lack of enforcement.
Scores of shops claiming to sell cannabis have sprung up throughout New York State over the last year following the legalization of recreational use. Evelyn Freja for The New York Times
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Austin Garza, a tourist from Dallas, stopped by the flagship store of Weed World Candies in Midtown Manhattan and bought two pre-rolled joints.
Outside, he opened a yellow tube labeled Super Silver Haze. He took out a joint to smoke and offered puffs to passers-by, three of whom obliged.
The store opened in 2019 and had been an outlier among the pizza parlors, novelty shops and officer towers on 7th Avenue between Times Square and Penn Station. But in recent months, several more smoke shops and dispensaries have sprung up on the same strip, illegally selling cannabis products to tourists, city dwellers and commuters.
The sleek dispensaries and tacky bodegas are part of an explosion of unlicensed cannabis shops that have opened in New York over the past year as part of a rush to cash in on the state’s legalization of cannabis before the rules could be set.
Now on the eve of the launch of the state’s legal market, the authorities face growing pressure to address the shops, which have created confusion among everyone from tourists to police officers.
State regulators and some industry insiders have called for the shops to be shut down for fear they undermine the legal market. But supporters of the shops say they are employing people and serving a clientele left waiting for legal retail locations that have been slow to launch. New York legalized cannabis for adult recreational use last year in March.
In the city, the Adams administration has been reluctant to treat the illegal shops with a heavy hand. Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the city sheriff’s office, a small civil law enforcement agency, has conducted hundreds of business inspections, during which deputies confiscated illegal products, issued fines and made arrests. “Mayor Adams has been clear that no illegal business operations should be tolerated,” she said.
A sidewalk sign displays a menu of offerings for a shop called “Indoor Cannabis” The sign reads: flowers, pre-rolls, concentrates, vapes, and edibles.
Without a significant change in the landscape, licensed cannabis retailers will be forced into competition with unlicensed sellers.
City authorities have sought to avoid stirring memories of the war on drugs with widespread arrests, said Jeffrey Hoffman, a cannabis lawyer and legalization activist.
“We’ve hit the reset button,” Mr. Hoffman said. “The issue just became how long they were going to let it go.”
State cannabis regulators issued the first retail licenses on Monday, allowing 36 businesses and nonprofits to open dispensaries serving adults 21 and older. State officials have said they hope to have the first retail sales underway by the end of the year.