NY's slow rollout of legal weed shops encourages the black market

Where there is a will, there is a way, and after spending decades chasing weed sales underground, New York has legalized marijuana but not allowed legal dispensaries to open. Many shady dispensaries have opened, however. Family members of mine who live in the area, and others who have visited them, have regaled me with stories of how Manhattan is now a dope smokers' paradise.

Having seen this play out in other places, we can count on the government wanting the tax revenue, and this getting somewhat worked out but never perfectly.


The licensing program in New York is years behind the state's sophisticated black market. New York doled out its first set of dispensary licenses last month, but recreational marijuana has been legal in the state for nearly two years.

"These shops are masquerading as safe, legal entities," said Trivette Knowles, a press officer at the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, "but there are currently no licensed sales happening right now in the state of New York."

The problem is particularly cumbersome in New York City, Knowles said. Weed can be bought from brick-and-mortar storefronts, trucks, pop-up shops, bodegas and even courier services that deliver directly to consumers. His office has sent out cease-and-desist letters to some of the unlicensed operators in the state, but some trade groups say there are likely tens of thousands of illegal businesses in the city alone.

"It's almost like whack-a-mole," said Reiman, of New Frontier Data. "If one goes down, another one just pops up."