New York's Legal Weed Problems

Stephen Andrews
21 Nov 2022

The Empire State has an estimated $750m worth of pot stockpiled that growers can't sell. Cannabis has been legal in New York since last year, 2021, however, state regulators have still not issued a single license for legal pot retailers, therefore stopping the distribution of produced weed at the very farms where it was grown in the first place.

It has been revealed that almost 300,000 pounds of cannabis, valued at $750m, remains stored at some 200 state-licensed farms in New York. The amount is from last summer's production and is in danger of deteriorating. 

New York's state authorities began handing out growing licenses to hundreds of farmers in the spring of 2021. However, there has been a delay in issuing licenses for dispensaries where the grown products can be sold. With nowhere to be shipped, and federal law prohibiting transport across state borders, weed has been piling up. 

Moreover, last week, a federal judge barred the state of New York from handing out the first batch of retail licenses in several areas, including Brooklyn and parts of Hudson Valley, a decision prompted by a lawsuit that challenges the program's selection requirements. 

The case argues that some of the requirements to open a legal shop in New York violate constitutional rights, or the very fact that the early selection process has prioritised applicants who have a marijuana-related conviction under New York state law. Such a requirement is part of the measures that regulators introduced with legalisation, with an aim to reverse historical injustices created by the War on Drugs. But it now seems to have backfired. 

The timing of the injunction could not have been worse, anyway. There are already fears that New York may be headed on the same path as California. With not one legal cannabis shop up and running in The Empire State, the black market has flourished, and New Yorkers have become accustomed to sourcing their stash from the street. 

Currently, one can find weed in head shops and bodegas as well as there are mobile weed vans on Times Square. Dealers brag around that their weed was grown in sunny California, a nod that the age-old cannabis pipeline between the east and west is active. 

New York's thriving black market threatens to jeopardise the state's emerging legal industry, which is supposed to add 20,000 new jobs and grow into a $4.2 billion market by 2027. 

A spokesperson from the Office of Cannabis Management has said, "the goal is to open dispensaries by the end of this year", and it was "still gunning to get the first sales on board" by 2023. 

If things are going to work, authorities may need to put extra muscle in persuading consumers to switch to legal dispensaries if they want legal operators to succeed. And that would be a huge challenge because we all know pot on the streets is much cheaper than pot in the shops. 

Stephen Andrews