New York’s Black Market for Weed Thrives Ahead of Legal Sales

New York’s Black Market for Weed Thrives Ahead of Legal Sales

Although New York legalized adult-use marijuana more than a year ago, the state has yet to issue a single dispensary license. The result has been a weed free-for-all: Cannabis seems to be for sale everywhere — head shops, bodegas, even from folding tables on street corners. Some dealers brazenly sell in public, and many boast their products were grown in California.

The outcome is not unlike what happened when California legalized marijuana. Six years later, illegal sellers and growers continue to thrive there. Despite those struggles, New York leaders decided to take a gentle approach with anyone selling without a license. Now, an industry expected to generate a $4.2 billion market by 2027 could stumble on arrival as it competes with the booming black market.

… When New York became the 15th state to legalize cannabis, lawmakers saw an opportunity to reverse past wrongs. They moved to expunge certain marijuana-related criminal records and offered priority on marijuana business licenses to “justice-involved people” with prior weed convictions.

Against that backdrop, lawmakers have hesitated to throw the book at those now caught selling cannabis without a license and gave hazy enforcement instructions to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. “Since we didn’t think this was going to happen, we didn’t put anything in the bill that gave OCM and the police departments very clear-cut rules of the road to close them down,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the bill to legalize recreational cannabis.

Krueger believes police already have the right to seize illegal products and shutter offending shops. New York Mayor Eric Adams, a fellow Democrat, didn’t appear to share that viewpoint, however.

… Earlier this year, a bill stalled in Albany that would have strengthened penalties for illicit cannabis sales and clarified the OCM’s role in enforcement.

Many stores selling unregulated cannabis products are already licensed to sell alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. Governments could revoke offending stores’ licenses, said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, but “we have not sought to do that at all.”

… The recent enforcement push may not be enough to blunt the illegal market’s impact, especially with the first regulated stores planned to open in the coming months.

By:  Shannon Young | Politico