New Yorkers for over a year have lived in a legal cannabis purgatory in which possessing and using the plant is allowed, but there’s no state-licensed dispensaries open yet for business.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law last March making it legal for anyone 21 years of age and older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana flower and up to 24 grams of concentrated THC. But authorities to this day have yet to dole out the state’s first cannabis licenses.
To fill the void, underground companies are taking advantage of loopholes in state law to sell the plant at unlicensed stores — most of which are popping up across New York City.
The gray area
Some of the gray-area dispensaries are run discreetly on social media and classified ad websites like Craigslist. Others are proudly out in the open, operating in storefronts and even food trucks on crowded Big Apple streets.
Lonny Bramzon operates a cannabis-themed clothing and digital content store on bustling Stanton Street in New York’s Lower East Side. His store, called Street Lawyer Services offers marijuana as a “gift” to customers who buy the t-shirts, hoodies, videos and other paraphernalia for sale inside.
“We are a cannabis content lounge and also a place of community,” Bramzon told the New York Post. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Empire Cannabis Club claims to be both a nonprofit organization and the city’s first cannabis dispensary. Operating two stores on separate ends of town, the company offers a membership service for people to buy and consume the plant. Empire also advertises marijuana delivery on its website.
“We have taken the blessings of the Legislature allowing the transfer, without profit, of cannabis, and have set up a membership service in which the club will acquire cannabis products for its members,” Empire says on its website. “We only add the cost to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of said products.”
But is it legal?
Street Lawyer and Empire Cannabis are just two of an estimated dozens of pop-up stores to get an early start on selling the plant. But officials say the run of gray-area stores may not last for long.
New York’s Office of Cannabis Management has condemned the stores, calling them “illegal,” according to a department spokesman. The OCM has issued over 50 cease-and-desist letters in the past month.