Gray Market: We Talked With Weed Dealers in NYC

Interviewing the Dealers (and the Cops Who Should Be Stopping Them)

Written by

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is the senior editor at CBD Oracle, and has been covering science, vaping and cannabis for over 10 years. He has a MS in Theoretical Physics from Uppsala...

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Illicit dealers selling weed in New York City
Photo: CBD Oracle
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New York’s weed market is a mess. Although the state took the excellent decision to legalize, they didn’t take the pragmatic step of making it possible to legally acquire. It didn’t exactly take a genius or weed policy expert to predict what was going to happen. If you’re a stoner in the state, you’re left in a tricky situation: you can’t get in trouble for having weed or smoking it, but you’re supposed to just… wait for the dispensaries to open? Unsurprisingly, the street dealers started to come out of the shadows and put on an air of legitimacy: the black market became a “gray” market. They’re still breaking the law by selling, but all it takes to make it vaguely legal is if you replace the price with a “suggested donation” and say the weed is free. This is obviously nonsense, on some level, but the truth is, enforcement has been lax and the sellers aren’t even trying to hide it.

But what is it really like out there on the street?

We went to New York City to delve deep into the world of inner city ‘illicit’ weed dealers – their run-ins with the cops, potentially tainted weed, deteriorating mental health and the all-consuming quest for quick cash. And we also got the cops’ first hand experiences.

RELATED: Examining the Risks and Benefits of NYC’s Illicit Cannabis Market

Legal, But Still Illicit: The Sorry State of Weed in New York

Man smoking cannabis in Washington Square Park in NYC
Photo: CBD Oracle

New York passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in March 2021, and lawmakers essentially went with the usual strategy of creating an agency (the Office of Cannabis Management) to oversee the actual market and create rules. The issue is that there is so much focus on “not rushing things” and “doing it right,” politically, that this process has taken an incredible length of time. Although the reasons for the delays are complicated and multi-faceted, one issue has been the (admirable) desire to produce an equitable industry and repay black and brown communities for the disproportionate damage the drug war has done to them. However, actually achieving this is hard, and it adds a vetting process for all applications which slows the whole thing down.

Whereas the problem described in the introduction started as soon as weed became legal to possess. The time that politicians have been spending making sure it’s “done right” has been time for the gray market to entrench itself and build trust with citizens. The perfect has, to some extent, become an enemy of the good. It would be better to approve some dispensaries from experienced players to get the legal market up and running, then make the industry more equitable with the remaining licenses.

No tax. No overheads. Just weed for cash, anytime you want.

The first 36 licenses were approved in late November, with official opening at the end of 2022. This means it took over a year and a half for any licenses to get approved, and the time between “you can legally have weed” and “you can legally acquire weed” will be even longer than this. The gray market has been operating, basically successfully, the whole time. No tax. No overheads. Just weed for cash, anytime you want.

If the socially equitable businesses can’t pull potential customers away from the gray market, have politicians really solved anything? If New York becomes the next California, the goal to “regulate and tax” the market has essentially failed.

Interviewing Dealers and Cops About the Gray Market

Dealers selling weed next to NYPD officer
Photo: CBD Oracle

We set out to investigate the gray market by interviewing both dealers selling weed without licenses and police officers, who theoretically should stop them from breaking the law. Here are the interviews in full (audio recordings are available upon request). Note, for safety & security some names have been changed. Aside from that, all interviews are reported as recorded on November 6, 2022. 

Interview 1: Florence, a Store Representative at Flower World, Financial District

People buy more weed in recessions.

Store Representative, Flower World

CBD Oracle: How long have you been selling marijuana products in NYC?

6 months.

How are sales doing now and when you just started? 

It’s been gradually picking up. It wasn’t as busy when we just opened up but it’s picking up slowly. 

Many dealers sell weed on the street without a store, does that affect your business?

Not really. 

Why would people go to street dealers instead of established stores like yours?

Probably because they are cheaper.

Do you think their products are as safe as the products you sell in your store?

Umm, probably not [laughs], probably not. Usually it’s weed that someone has grown in their house, you know, so you don’t really know if they’re using the right product safety testing, the right drying, the right growing agents, you don’t know what chemicals they’re using, if they are using chemicals, you don’t know if they’re cutting it with stuff. I don’t really know anything that they’re doing. Our stuff comes prepackaged, from the growers, shipped here.  

Do you do any safety testing to make sure products are not contaminated with any harmful chemicals? 

The growers do, we don’t. 

Do you check the safety tests before purchasing products from growers?

I don’t really know the answer to that. But our products have QR codes that take you to the safety test for each product.

People have reported to us that some cannabis products may be laced with fentanyl. Have you come across anything like that in New York?

Oh! I’ve heard of stories, but I’ve never experienced anything like that personally, and I don’t know anyone personally that has experienced that, so I don’t have too much to say. I would just say watch out where you buy your shit from, you know.  

Has inflation/recession in the market affected your business at all?

I think people buy more weed in recessions. Sales have been strong for us this year despite the inflation. I definitely think more people are more curious to trying it, especially with legalization. I have a lot of people that come in and they’re like ‘hey I’m not very experienced can you help me out’, or like ‘what’s your lowest dose, what’s the latest thing I can get here that’s just gonna get me buzzed just to get through work’. A lot of times it’s just to get through work [laughs]. And in New York everybody works all the time, so it’s really just go go go, you have two or three jobs at once, it’s a lot!

Would you say people buy more sativa/energetic strains in New York to get through work? 

Yeah, we sell sativas quickly, quickly! We tend to have mostly indica left in our store, because people buy sativa and once there’s no sativa they’re like ‘alright well give me a hybrid.’ In California, indica is more popular because ya’ll are chill. We (New Yorkers) really need like meth but meth is not legal so we get what we can, you know. 

Cannabis is legalized in New York but permits have not been issued yet, so nobody is technically allowed to sell cannabis. Would you say what you do is in the gray area?

Um, I wouldn’t say that. I know that we have something that allows us to sell because the only time cops ever come in here they’re like ‘hey, you have any tobacco?’ and we’re like no. So we’re not allowed to sell tobacco but we are totally able to sell THC. I don’t know the specifics on it but if places were to shut down we would not be one of them. 

Are you worried about getting raided by cops?

No, I mean there’s police everywhere, and we’re right by City Hall, you know. We’ve never had an issue. 

How many customers walk in the store every day?

I don’t know, more than a hundred.

Where do you source your products?

We get different things from different states. Some products we get from California and some from New York. 

Interview 2: Two Police Officers at Times Square, Stood Beside a Dealer

When we arrest somebody and they have weed on them, we take it and we give it back to them. It’s property, it’s theirs.

NYPD Officer

CBD Oracle: There are people openly selling weed on the street in NYC. Is that legal?

Weed in New York is legal. It’s in limbo; it’s in a gray area. We cannot actually enforce anything right now.

Do you issue a ticket to anyone buying or selling weed in NYC?

No, we don’t give tickets for that. They don’t know what’s going on, because they [Office of Cannabis Management] legalized it but right now even the [prosecutable] amount is unknown. We had a guy with 5 pounds, the amount that is prosecutable, the DA [District Attorney] said no, said return it [the weed] to them. So it’s like I get a guy with 5 pounds and you’re telling me you can’t prosecute it. What are they gonna do? Are they gonna regulate it? Are they not? So it’s kinda in limbo right now. So let’s say I go and issue him a ticket, so he has to go back to court, what they’re gonna do is throw it away. If I arrest him, they’re gonna be like why did you arrest him, what are we gonna do? They’re just gonna toss it away. They don’t have a plan. They don’t even know what’s going on. When I arrest a guy, they don’t want anything to do with it. You can give him a ticket for this or that but not for weed. When we arrest somebody and they [have] weed on them, we take it and we give it back to them. It’s property, it’s theirs. Until they figure it out and point us in a direction, we’re gonna stay clear. We’ll leave it to them to set up the guidelines and then we’ll do this and that. They need to guide us. 

Interview 3: Bill, Weed Dealer Next to the Cops at Times Square

I saw a young boy, he was anywhere from 12 and 14. He was sitting there and smoking [K2/spice]. Zombieland.

Unlicensed Cannabis Dealer in NYC

CBD Oracle: What do you think would happen to your business when stores are permitted to sell cannabis? Would people still buy from you then?

It would help me even more. I meet my quotas every day. They opened a store right here, and there’s a store there that sell weed, it don’t make a difference. 80% of the stores they have open now are selling fake weed in there… CBD, that shit taste like turkey seasoning. It makes you sleepy and drowsy. How do you put stuff like that on the market? You legalize marijuana and let them put stuff like that in the store that harm them. We don’t harm them. I smoke like an ounce a day. Good weed. I ain’t running around snatching up this guy or beating her up, nah. This shit is entertainment, I don’t even have to go to the movies, this shit out here is the movies. I’m telling you, this is entertainment. The only person that goes crazy from smoking this shit is somebody that can’t control their shit.  

Have you noticed customers with mental health issues coming to you more often recently?

No, they come back and they say this shit is good. They’re satisfied with it. 

What type of people do you see come to you more often?

Adults. I don’t sell weed to kids. I got an old man, 70 years old coming here and be buying ounces, they just sit in the house and this keeps them calm, they watch TV. 

How can you tell your customers are not minors? 

Because I can tell. I’m 63, I wasn’t born last night. Two things I don’t do: I don’t sell weed to kids and pregnant women. Some woman walked up to me with her baby in the stroller wanting weed, I tell her ‘ma take your stroller and go’. I got that kind of heart. I don’t sell pregnant women weed. They come to me with babies. 

What are your day-to-day struggles being a street weed dealer?

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. The police know what we do here, they see us everyday. They can’t do nothing because this shit [smoking] is legal. But what they can do is if they see us selling weed they can do something for that because weed is legal to smoke not to sell. A lot of us know that, they know that we know that. It’s legal to smoke but not to sell. 

Do the police do anything when they see you selling weed?

They don’t, they don’t. 85% of them smoke too. Why would you focus on something that’s legal when you got a man around the corner sticking his finger up a girl’s dress, with mirrors running around looking…what can you get for that? You can get a ticket for that but you can’t get a ticket for this [smoking weed]. They got more important stuff to focus on. Marijuana is a billion dollar industry, the city is making a lot of money with this shit, and they knew they would get money if they legalized weed here. 

How would you feel about applying for a license so you can sell legally with a permit?

I’d be the next motherfucking Bill Gates. I guarantee you that. I’m not ashamed to tell it. I’d pay my tax with no problem, no problem. They can tax that because you get back at the end of the year. Let em’ bring it to me like that and I don’t have a problem with that. The city know what the fuck they’re doing. They legalized this marijuana for a reason. Things were going out of control, as time goes on they’ll be able to control. 

Why did you start selling weed?

Alright. Number one, I went away. I came back, I couldn’t get a job. My back was against the wall back then. So I did the next best thing I could do. I have a family and kids. Old kids, and they all got good jobs working in law and criminal justice. I just want to let you know that that’s how I felt about this game. It ain’t too many people you’re gonna run up to like this, they’re gonna tell you to get outta here, who are you a cop? I ain’t gotta do that, I know you’re not a cop. 

And another thing I don’t do, I would never go in that field, is K2. I would never go in that field. I would never sell that. Never. That shit make you go crazy. It fucks you up. Young boys like that. They don’t sell it right over here. It’s dangerous. I saw a young boy, he was anywhere from 12 and 14. He was sitting there and smoking this thing. Zombieland. Lots of K2 and crack. It’s dangerous. 

Interview 4: Sprinkles, Dealer at Washington Square Park

Selling weed to customers in NYC illicit cannabis market
Photo: CBD Oracle

 “…That [fentanyl laced weed] fucked up her friend’s mental life, her friend is basically crazy forever now just because they took the wrong stuff.”

Weed Dealer in NYC

CBD Oracle: New York legalized marijuana but the problem is they haven’t issued any permits to sell. How do you think the next few months will play out?

We were just talking about that. I feel like the first person that’s most likely gonna be able to sell weed out here is Diddy. Yeah, people are talking about it. Because in New York we have plenty of smoke shops and stuff where we could go in and buy weed but a cop could find out about it and you’re most likely gonna get raided. There’s a smoke shop like two blocks away from here that got raided about two weeks ago, raided for about two pounds of weed or something like that. It should be on the news if you looked it up. 

When you go to stores and stuff everybody is gonna tell you their stuff is legal because they want to get your money. Visitors do come out here that come up to the tables and be like ‘is this legal what you guys are doing?’ And if we tell them no, they won’t buy. Legalization is also a big factor in your income because there is people out here that want everything they’re doing to be legal. Even if it is drugs. 

How long have you been selling weed in Washington Square Park?

I started this summer and I really like it. 

Are you making good money from selling weed here?

Yeah, you do make good money. Some days you don’t make a dollar, at all, like you’ll sit here from eight in the morning till twelve at night and you won’t make a dollar. There’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of weed dealers. Some people that are in the park are paying homage, some people do pay to be in this park.

Who do you have to pay to be allowed to sell in the park?

I really don’t know. But I do know there are people in the park that do pay to be in the park. I guess drug dealers are our way to the park. Like we do have people that have customers and clientele, so say you take somebody’s client it does get a little personal. Sometimes they do get a little personal in the park because people do really come out here to live, so people do come out here trying to make their living.

How much do you make on a good day?

On a good day, if you’re selling everything from edibles to pre-rolls to eighths, people come for mushrooms, you can make at least $1,200. On a slow day, $500. On a really bad day, like a bad day would be like $200. That’s not bad, but a bad day to me is $150 because you know I’m a girl, I just like to eat, as long as I make money to eat I don’t care.

I don’t look at this as a long term plan, I have bigger plans than this. I still go to school, I want to be a doctor and stuff. I have bigger plans than this but I do smoke weed and sometimes I do this. School is expensive. And I am good with saving too so this does help. I do a lot of things other than this but this helps a lot, it really does. It helps a lot of things in my life if I’m being honest, it does supply for a lot of things. I’m also a hairstylist, when I have to go out and get products to do people’s hair, where am I getting the money from? Sometimes it be from me selling my weed. I sell the weed, get the money, do their hair, make the money. It’s cool, especially if you’re an outgoing person like me, I like to meet people and I’m a really nice person. People like that, they come back to me. It’s fun. 

Where do you source the products?

Um, so usually we get products from around the park, there’s people that come to the park with a lot of weed. We have legal things like pop-up shops and stuff that people actually have license to sell weed, just not in the store, and you’re able to buy pounds of weed from them. Or maybe there’s a website that you like that you want to order from. My favorite website is Sprinkles. Do you guys know Sprinkles? They sell weed. They have a big inventory on weed. You have to have a Cali address to order from them but we buy from them. Their weed is like higher grade weed, like $80 an eighth type of weed. That’s my favorite. So when we order sometimes, I have an auntie that lives in Cali, so when we do order we ship to her house and then she sends it to me. You send the money through CashApp and you get everything you want. 

Do the products you order from California come through the post office? 

Yes, it comes through the mail, I have a P.O. Box because my mother is pretty strict so I have to be careful with hiding it from her. 

Have the products ever been confiscated by the post office when going from California to New York?

No, it pretty much always gets here. I know there’s two-way deliveries. I believe when my auntie ships it she sends two mails at a time so she’ll probably ship it to somewhere else before it comes to New York. You know what I’m saying? So she won’t ship it straight from Cali to New York especially if it’s a lot of weed, if it’s over a pound of weed or if it’s even over three QPs of weed she’s definitely gonna break down her shipping and when she breaks down the shipping sometimes she won’t even ship it until two or three months. Yeah, it’s not like we just get the weed out here. And I like smoking quality weed. When I sell to people that’s different than what I smoke. You get what I’m saying? So I’d rather smoke quality, so yes I’ll wait three months for my damn Sprinkles, yes the hell I will. 

How do you make sure the products you sell are safe? 

As far as safety, I only get weed from people I trust. You can also take it and get it tested. You gotta just have trust. In New York it’s really about trust because people could be selling crack out here in the park and it could be crushed up pills and if you trust that person you’re gonna take it and you’re gonna just be like ‘damn they got me but I trusted them’ so you can’t really say nothing. I got a pound of weed sitting in here front of me that I got from New York, I don’t know how they got that weed, I don’t know how the person before them got that weed, and I also don’t know how the person before that person got the weed, so how am I supposed to know. Something could have happened to the weed four people ago and everybody is thinking they got good weed because they trust their dealer so I’m getting weed from a person that might not even know their weed is laced. That’s how I think of it. I don’t go home and test my weed. I never been laced before through any edibles or any weed.

Have you seen any incidents of people buying weed that’s been laced?

I did hear something, haha, I’m not a liar. I did hear a story actually. Somebody came here and they got fentanyl, and basically the girl ended up texting the dealer back saying how her friend was sick in the hospital because their stuff was laced. What they said they got is not what they got, the doctor told them that it was something totally different, and basically that fucked up her friend’s mental life, her friend is basically crazy forever now just because they took the wrong stuff, and that is really sad. That’s really sad. But the person that they got it from claims that they didn’t know what they was given, they got it from somebody else and they just went off of what the person told them so that goes back to what was I saying earlier, what the person says to the next person puts them in jeopardy too because now look that was a big crisis in the park.

But I don’t do crack and I don’t influence anybody to do crack. I rather you smoke weed because I’m pretty sure if you get laced with weed your dying chances might be a little lower than with crack. I don’t do high drugs like that. I only smoke weed because I was stabbed in my arm so it helps the pain. 

New York plans to issue permits for selling weed. How would that affect your business?

The officers do tell us that when they come. If the officers are feeling shitty that day they’re gonna give you a ticket. Some days the officers are pretty cool, they pass by us and they’ll come ask us ‘Hey, what kind of strains you got today?’ They’ll come talk to us, but then some days we get those officers that really are officers, that come to work to be an officer, they come and give you a ticket, and that ticket is a $1000 and you do have to appear in court. There are a lot of people out here that don’t pay their tickets and that’s why they don’t give tickets. And some people go to court and beat the ticket. I never got a ticket before. 

Do you ever plan to apply for a license and sell with a permit and report taxes?

No, because, um, one of my friends could get a license and I could be like I work with them but this is my table here you know. I’m not getting no license so ya’ll can be charging me. I’m gonna make $500 in the park one day and you guys are gonna take $250 of it. No way Jose, nah nah. 

Interview 5: Steve, Dealer at Washington Square Park

The cops are really here for the violence that was going on, they’re not really here for the weed.”

Weed Dealer in NYC

CBD Oracle: Retail stores claim that the weed you guys sell on the street is not safe. What do you say to that? 

That’s the irony of it all because they’re the ones selling CBD and claiming it’s weed. I’m not pointing fingers but most of these guys are selling CBD weed. I’ve been personally seeing people buying CBD thinking it’s weed and it hurts me. I like people seeing my face and walking to me and buying weed from me, they’re like this is [Steve] and his shit is good and I pride myself. We’re selling legit products because we smoke it ourselves, and I’m sitting here all day everyday nine to nine most days and I smoke every thirty minutes. I pride myself in having my shit legit. Most of those guys [stores] don’t even smoke, they just look at it to make money.

How long have you been selling weed here?

October is gonna be my fourth year in New York. 

How successful is your business?

I’d say it’s successful for the person who can be financially responsible, haha. Everything is about self-discipline at the end of the day, that’s what I’ve learned, you can do anything as long as you treat it like a job. There’s a lot of friends out here that I know had nothing, like I had nothing, and they’re doing this for like three years and now they have a spot, they have an apartment, they have a car you know, they have their credit in order. They’re even paying taxes under the guise of a brand. 

How much do you make per day?

Umm, I’d say, if we’re being real, maybe two or three pounds. Everyday on a good day you’re probably making about $1000 a day, on a good day if everything flows. Most of that would be profit.

How do you get customers?

For me personally, I worked for somebody first, literally like a job, I was like coming here every single day and I was helping my homie and I was making his prerolls and eighths everyday and he was paying me a fixed price no matter how many he sells. Then I started getting popular and my face became familiar because people were coming up to me, so eventually I got my own tables and customers here. 

How do you make sure your products are safe?

We’re doing this inside, all the sources are very connected and very trusted, um we also work on a principle of loyalty and every day is credibility. In the store, you could mess with somebody because they have good business but you don’t know what they secretly do to keep their business going. All the moves we make is reviewed and verified. We’ve been smoking for years so I know what’s good quality.

Have you heard of any incidents of people buying weed laced with fentanyl?

I don’t like to shame other companies but there’s been three to four times where kids that bought prerolls from those stores and they’ve come here because we had to buy them water and stuff because they hit the ground right in this spot, and police had to come and pick them. There are a lot of synthetic weed going around in New York, it’s like K2 Spice and it’s really dangerous. A lot of people are clueless and it’s unfortunate that they become a victim of that. 

How is the relationship between dealers in the park? Has there been any violence recently?

That’s the whole reason there are cops in here, there was a few times when people that got into altercations because somebody took somebody else’s spot. People are trying to make a living here, to buy food, pay their mom’s bills, their cost of living. They are forced to work here or the money is good and they don’t want to work at a job where you’re getting paid $20 an hour whereas here you get $100 or $300 a day minimum and if you’re smart and self-disciplined you can make a living.

What were you doing before selling weed?

Aside from this, I make music and I’m in the fashion world a little bit. But to stay on my feet, I was going from job to job and working like under the table shit and I couldn’t really hold a real job and I also tried doing scamming a little here and there but that also was not working for me at all. It all backfired. The most I ever got paid in the East Coast was maybe $15 or $16 an hour. That’s tough especially in New York with the life I personally want to live so it just wasn’t happening for me. I need to make a substantial amount of income daily on a consistent basis because I don’t live a normal life and have a lot of shit going on. If I was just paying bills and going to school with no motive or goal to influence anybody or make any impact on the culture then I would just get a job. 

Were you more stressed when you were going job to job or now?

I was more stressed when I was going job to job and working under people because there were bigger goals I wanted out of life. I’m willing to take a risk to catch a bigger fish. 

How long do you plan to sell weed like this?

Until I don’t need to. A lot of us aren’t educated about economics and investing. Right now I’m in a group where we’re teaching each other all of this.

Do you plan to apply for a permit so you can sell weed legally? 

It depends on how much the trouble is. And if you’re making that kind of money then it’s not a problem, but if me paying the government is hurting me then I’m gonna figure another way to do it. 

How has inflation affected your business? Are sales up or down?

There are a lot of people that are strict but I’m always very flexible with my customers because I like replay value, I want the return customer, I want the trust. Companies are gonna raise their prices with inflation but in the streets you’re always gonna get the same price. 

Do you have any tips for people who buy weed from unlicensed dealers?

Trust your gut. I would try to go to the most calm, chillin’ person you can find that isn’t like staring at you like you’re fish. Most of the time I’m in my own world, I’m not even looking at people, they have to come to me and speak. I don’t yell or stare at people. 

I noticed you folded your table when the cops passed by. Have you got a ticket before?

The white shirt cops may give a ticket out once in a while but that’s his job, it’s not like they really hate what we’re doing but it’s their job to act like they’re doing something when they see it happening so to give them the respect I just look like I’m gonna put away my table and they keep walking and nobody has to turn on their body cam or waste money on a ticket they know we’re not gonna pay. 

What happens if the cops give you a ticket? Do you pay it?

I haven’t and I haven’t got in trouble for it. The cops are really here for the violence that was going on, they’re not really here for the weed. 

Interview 6: Johnny, Weed Dealer at Times Square

If it gets me high then I know it’s good.” 

Weed Dealer in NYC

CBD Oracle: Where do you source your products?

I get my stuff from New York.

How do you make sure the products you sell are safe? 

I smoke it. If it gets me high then I know it’s good. If it tastes bad then it’s really not good. 

Do you look for any lab test results?

I don’t really look for that, not really, nah. 

Are you concerned some of the weed you sell may be laced with fentanyl?

The people I deal with they don’t deal with nothing like that. They want the people to come back and keep the business going. 

How much do you make from selling weed?

Probably like half a pound per week. 

How has inflation affected your business?

It enhanced it, people buy more. Before the pandemic you had to struggle to make $50, now we motherfuckers sitting here getting $2,000 to $3,000 if you got the right products. 

Solving the Problem: Issue Licenses and Make Dispensaries Competitive

The interviews paint a challenging picture for lawmakers in New York. Most notably, there is only limited interest in setting up “legitimate” operations from the dealers we spoke to, and the police seemed essentially powerless to stop the gray market at present. The biggest problem is that in some ways, it’s already too late to apply the most intelligent solutions to the issue. The fact that the gray market has essentially supplied all of the “legal” weed in NY up to now means that they’re already established. Whatever unease people had about buying from a street dealer has likely been dealt with already, at least for most. Prior to this, allowing some legitimate dispensaries to set themselves up quickly and get the legal industry moving in some way would have been a positive step.

The good news is that some licenses have already been approved. Speeding this process along would still help, but the most important thing is that there are some options for people who want to buy weed legally. After this, the next-biggest issue is the fact that legal weed will probably cost more than gray market weed. Some additional cost is expected – the weed is quality-controlled, after all – but minimizing the difference in cost is crucial. This may mean taking less per sale in taxes, but if you make it so the gray market is hugely cheaper, then any benefit to higher taxes disappears as people ignore your market entirely. 5% of $50 is more than 10% of $10, and tons better than 100% of $0.

California is the biggest cautionary tale, and a final element of the solution comes directly from the ongoing issues there. California’s weed legalization bill, like New York’s, gives localities the ability to opt out of brick and mortar cannabis stores in their town, city or village. However, in practice, two thirds of CA cities took advantage of this. This means the state only has 1 dispensary per 36,000 residents. In comparison, in Oregon (where the legal market captured most weed sales), there is one per 5,500 residents.

One potential solution to this is to set a hard minimum in law. One approach that California attempted to implement was making it so there had to be one dispensary per 4 alcohol licenses or per 10,000 residents, whichever is fewer, but only in municipalities that voted for legalization. This wouldn’t fix everything, but improving the coverage of the legal market removes one big reason people have for sticking to the gray market.


The interviews we conducted give a unique insight into the cannabis market in New York as it stands now, as well as the motivations of the sellers and how they’re likely to react to more legitimate operations opening up. The truth is, there will be fight for the future of cannabis in New York, and unless politicians and the OCM make some very pragmatic and likely somewhat unpopular decisions, we may be facing a California 2.0.

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