How Unlicensed Weed Became Free-For-All in New York City

Austin Garza, a visitor from Dallas, stopped into the Weed World Candies main store in Midtown Manhattan on a recent Sunday afternoon and purchased two pre-rolled joints.

Since the state legalized marijuana last year, there are an increasing number of marijuana shops, which are growing due to uncertainty about their legality and a lack of enforcement.

Austin Garza, a visitor from Dallas, stopped into the Weed World Candies main store in Midtown Manhattan on a recent Sunday afternoon and purchased two pre-rolled joints.

He took out a yellow tube marked Super Silver Haze and opened it outside. Three onlookers agreed when he offered them puffs from his joint, which he pulled out to smoke.

In contrast to the other pizza joints, novelty stores, and cop towers on Seventh Avenue between Times Square and Penn Station, the business opened in 2019. However, more smoke shops and dispensaries have opened up on the same strip in recent months, selling cannabis products to commuters, city dwellers, and tourists without a license.

The posh dispensaries and tacky bodegas are just two examples of the avalanche of unlicensed cannabis businesses that have sprung up in New York over the past year in an effort to take advantage of the state's recent legalization of the drug.

The authorities are under increasing pressure to confront the businesses, which have caused uncertainty among everyone from tourists to police officials, as the state's legal market is about to begin.

In order to protect the legal market, state regulators and several industry insiders have urged for the closure of the shops. With the issuance of the first retail licenses for recreational cannabis to 36 companies and charities on Monday, the need to address the issue became more urgent. By the end of the year, according to state officials, the first retail sales should start.

The newly licensed vendors will be driven to compete with illegal retailers that already have a footing in the market if there isn't a dramatic change in the situation.

The Adams government has resisted using a harsh hand against the illicit shops in the city. The city sheriff's office, a little civil law enforcement organization, has performed hundreds of company inspections, according to Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for the mayor, during which deputies have seized unlawful goods, imposed fines, and made arrests. She stated, "Mayor Adams has made it abundantly clear that no illicit business operations should be permitted.

The reset button has been pressed, Mr. Hoffman declared. "How long they were going to let it go" became the question.

Cannabis products are becoming more widely available and more diverse as recreational marijuana becomes legal in various states.

President Biden pardoned thousands of people found guilty of marijuana possession under federal law and declared that his administration will reconsider the classification of the drug as a controlled substance.

High Times: By authorizing the first licenses to run retail dispensaries in the state, New York made a key step toward the establishment of a legal market for recreational cannabis.

Fighting "Cannaphobia": Dasheeda Dawson, the city of New York's first cannabis director, is in charge of establishing new dispensaries and integrating the black market into the legal one.

Use is on the Rise: According to federal substance use survey statistics, marijuana and other hallucinogens are becoming more widely accepted among young adults.

Supporters of the illegal businesses claim that they provide jobs and cater to customers who have been waiting for authorized retail establishments that have been late to open. In March of last year, marijuana became legal in New York.

Cannabis stores have appeared almost everywhere since marijuana became legal, such as two blocks from a police precinct station house in Long Island City, across the street from a middle school in Harlem, and atop a subway station in Williamsburg.

Regulators claimed to be monitoring the stores across the state but would not provide an exact number. They seem to number in the hundreds, according to industry observers.

Smoker's World in Midtown debuted in February, and Mel Rivera said from behind the counter, "Everybody's doing what they have to do to be in the market."

The letters "THC," the abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component in cannabis, are placed beside the names of several indica and sativa strains at Weed World.

The proprietor, Bilal Muhammad, insists that unlike some newcomers, his company has only ever offered goods made with cannabidiol, sometimes known as CBD, which comes from the same plant as THC but does not cause users to become intoxicated.

Weed World lacked both of the distinct permits that are required to sell CBD and THC, according to Mr. Muhammad. He did, however, protest the authorities for grouping his business alongside vendors peddling highly strong THC goods.

More than a dozen of his bright trucks were impounded by the city throughout the summer. According to Mr. Muhammad, the majority of the vehicles were returned after he made plans to settle $670,000 in fines for parking and health code infractions. According to him, the trucks are being stored in New Jersey.

Cannabis is now being sold elsewhere except in smoke shops. A beauty salon, an opera house, and a tattoo shop have also been mentioned by state regulators.

Regulators have noted that the smoke shops are particularly worrisome since they mislead consumers into believing they are legal when in fact they are operating outside of the purview of the law.

A supply chain known as "seed-to-sale" in New York mandates that any marijuana sold within the state must have been grown, processed, and tested there. However, the majority of the city's marijuana stores provide goods in California-stamped packaging, and some also sell illegal substances in addition to candies and elixirs produced with psychedelic mushrooms.

In September, Democratic state senator from Manhattan Brad Hoylman sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams outlining his concerns following the opening of more than two dozen illegal businesses in his district.

According to Mr. Hoylman, "I can't convince my constituents that these things are safe or that they're not being sold to kids."

Additionally, he continued, the shops defeat lawmakers' intentions to give marijuana offenders preference for employment possibilities in the cannabis sector. The illicit stores also avoid paying taxes that are supposed to pay for education, addiction treatment, and investments in the areas where enforcement was strongest.

Another issue is violence. The stores have been the subject of robberies and burglaries, some of which have progressed to gunshots and stabbings because they frequently store huge quantities of cash.

Following the publication of her name and address in a cease-and-desist order from the state, Julia Deviatkina shuttered Freaky Dog, a smoking bar in Brooklyn.

"It was dangerous," she declared.

Closing down unlicensed dealers would be erroneous, according to Paula Collins, an attorney who represents cannabis-selling operators of smoke shops and convenience stores.

She said that closing stores will result in thousands of employees being laid off. Additionally, it would penalize property owners who have supported legalization efforts and the expansion of the commercial real estate industry.

Ms. Collins suggested that the authorities attempt to legitimize the shops rather than crack down on them.

Everyone is worried about the new stores that are opening, but at the same time, she claimed, we're losing out on tons of valuable tax money.

The goal, according to state legislators, is to integrate the unregulated market into the regulated sector. Regulators have cautioned, however, that all unlicensed cannabis sales remain illegal, regardless of whether the exchange is disguised as the purchase of a membership or service, or whether the cannabis product is gifted after a "donate."

However, some companies ignored the warnings, citing what they believed to be legal ambiguities and a lack of enforcement.

A nonprofit organization called The Empire Cannabis Club, with its headquarters in New York City, describes itself as a concierge service that buys marijuana for its members.

The business strategy, according to Empire's attorney Steve Zissou, is based on sections of the legalization law that he views as allowing social clubs.

According to the law as it is written, it is a lawful organization, Mr. Zissou stated. "Don't you think they would have already shut it down if they could?"

When asked about retailers at a separate press conference last month, Mayor Adams responded that the city was powerless because the law did not yet reflect the situation. "A police officer cannot just go up at the scene, make an arrest, or take the items," he stated.

The Police Department emphasized that, in its opinion, the legalizing statute does not give police the ability to initiate seizures or arrests when they observe cannabis exhibited or to close down unauthorized shops in an email to The New York Times.

Its public-information office stated, "The law only provides an enforcement mechanism if a real transaction is observed.

According to Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, local law enforcement frequently believes this to be the case.

Perhaps the winds are changing. Earlier this month, police and sheriff's deputies carried out raids at a marijuana store in Bay Ridge and a smoke shop in Greenwich Village. According to the sheriff's office of Anthony Miranda, investigators detained one individual on felony cannabis possession charges, seized more than 200 pounds of illicit tobacco and marijuana, and assessed fines totaling $8,000 on him.

However, Lance Lazzaro, a criminal defense attorney, asserted that his involvement in three instances very similar to this one gave him confidence that the charges would be dropped in court.

He said that it was marijuana. "It's not the century's worst crime,"

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