Though arguably a world away, New York City is a mere 2,789 miles from Bend. Its population of 8.8 million is mind-numbing when you consider its small geographic size, and no doubt accounts as a primary reason so many New Yorkers use cannabis.
After decades of draconian, racist policies in arresting and prosecuting cannabis producers, users and sellers, on March 21, 2021, New York made cannabis legal for adult use, and set out to establish a licensed, regulated system for production and sales.
New York's rules surpass Oregon's in some ways, allowing those 21 and over to possess 3 ounces of flower or 24 grams of concentrate in public, and up to 5 pounds of flower in their home. Consumption in public is allowed anywhere tobacco use is permitted, and in private residences, hotels and motels with the owner's permission.
The process to approve and license growers and dispensaries is still underway, so cannabis users in New York are all waiting to get stoned until the government says they may.
Oh, wait, turns out they are not.
New York City has always had a thriving underground cannabis scene, as any number of East Coast hip-hop artists have shared. When traveling to New York on tour, I often relied on the ubiquitous bike messengers who would bring cannabis to your home, hotel or recording studio for a price. That price was often $75 to $100 for a 2-gram "eighth," and frequently bore the tell- tale signs of hydro flower that had not been flushed properly.
New York predicts dispensaries will open later this year or in 2023, and cannabis tax revenue will total over $1.25 billion over the first six years. The current void of an expected 150 licensed brick-and-mortar dispensaries to legally purchase cannabis has birthed an unprecedented number of fairly brazen operations to score a sack, edible or most any canna product.
This is due in part to the surprisingly chill attitude New York City Mayor Eric Adams initially took. In June, he said the city wasn't looking to take a "heavy handed" approach to those selling weed illicitly, and that those caught doing so would face a first-time warning, then a second-time possible summons.
Liking those odds, soon industrious New Yorkers took to providing their fellow bough dwellers with bags through some very public outlets.
Storefronts began popping up, even after the city sent cease and desist letters to 52 shops. The letters didn't stop others from opening up what "New York" magazine called "weed bodegas"—a hybrid convenience store/smoking supply shop/dispensary. The article describes how some weed bodega owners plan to enter the regulated marketplace, but tell of operators making $40,000 a day in sales, all untaxed. (Cue the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth of every Oregon dispensary owner.)
"Mobile dispensaries," aka trucks filled with cannabis products, began appearing on the streets of Gotham, offering to provide products in exchange for a suggested donation. They weren't discreet in their offerings: painted loud, garish colors with neon green cartoon cannabis leaves and photos of buds.
Over the summer, the city cracked down on the trucks, less so for what they were selling than the greater offenses of illegal parking and unpaid tickets. One company had 12 trucks towed for owing $500,000 in fines and interest. (Super stoner move.)
The Harlem-based Uncle Budd NYC brand started with trucks, then ingeniously pivoted to a Dutchie-style ordering app. They'll deliver your order with 1/8ths of flower running $30 to $60, five packs of pre rolls for $100 and 1 gram vape carts for $50.
Of course, none of these businesses offer lab-tested products, so potency and terpene contents are unknown/unverified, as well if any of the products contain unsafe levels of pesticides, solvents, mold or other nasties. And with the EVALI vaping crisis still recent history, some vapers may be skittish about consuming illicit carts.
How these operations flourish when legal dispensaries begin opening remains to be seen, but as Oregon and other states have demonstrated, a functioning regulated Adult Use program doesn't end "traditional" sales.