Manhattan’s ‘Smoke Shops’ Float in a Legal Gray Area

Ahead of legal dispensaries, confusion abounds in the cannabis market

| 01 Sep 2022 | 02:11

As NY State finalizes its rules for the sale of marijuana for recreational use, smoke shops across the city exist in a confusing legal gray area.

In March 2021, New York State legalized cannabis for recreational use, becoming only the 15th state to do so. However, the state is still tinkering with its regulations, and the first legal dispensaries have yet to open.

This means that any vendor in the city which claims to sell cannabis is unlicensed and, technically, running afoul of the law. However, Manhattan is awash in “smoke shops,” which stock their windows with pipes and other paraphernalia. Many now also sell cannabis itself, albeit without a license.

In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, trucks such as “Weed World” also sell cannabis products throughout the city.

In this interim phase, confusion abounds in the market. It’s currently legal in NYC for adults 21 and up to possess and consume marijuana as long as money doesn’t change hands.

From a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense for an aspiring seller to try to get ahead of the regulations. Once the state gives the green light to legal dispensary licenses, a tremendous number of vendors are likely to apply. With so much competition, it’s logical to want to establish a base of operations in advance.

Some stores claim they don’t yet sell weed products, only paraphernalia and weed-adjacent products such as CBD and Delta-8.

Michael, who runs a smoke shop in Midtown, says “[A] lot of customers they ask about weed,” but claims he doesn’t sell it to them. Instead he sells CBD and Delta-8, the latter of which he states “[gets you] a little high.” He says as soon as licenses are given out he plans to get one; it’s “better for business,” even though he currently makes a living without one.

“It’s Waiting”

However, some stores have entirely thrown away the pretense. A smoke-shop employee named MT said she openly sells weed to customers who ask for it.

“Cops don’t really mind about weed,” she says. “In a lot of NYC, you could sell weed in front of them and they don’t give a f—k.”

“I had people come in here and get weed, and cops were just right outside,” she continues.

MT says her boss, who owns multiple weed stores all over the Tri-State Area including several in Midtown, told her the Upper West Side store where she works will be licensed in November.

“It’s waiting,” concludes MT. “It’s all pending.”