NEW YORK — New York state legalized recreational marijuana last year but has yet to allow licensed dispensaries to sell it beyond medical use.
As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reports, that hasn’t stopped all kinds of unlicensed vendors from popping up all over the city, and now the state is trying to crack down.
If you’ve walked through Washington Square Park recently, you’ve likely noticed more people openly smoking pot, and you’ve also maybe seen vendors, who have set up tables selling everything from gummies to joints and weed candies.
“I got two joints, $10. Yeah, one for my mom as a souvenir,” one woman said.
In March of last year, New York state legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older and lowered the penalties for unlawful sales, making marijuana increasingly easy to get, even though the first licensed dispensaries aren’t supposed to open until the end of this year.
Over the years, drugs have plagued Washington Square Park and police have kept a close watch.
In a CBS2 news story from October 1997, 72 people were arrested for doing drugs in the park in a single raid.
But now a gray area in the marijuana laws have allowed a gray market to emerge.
“Cops have been more lenient … A lot of what people don’t see out here, it’s not about people just selling weed. It’s about the fact that people are out here being creative, entrepreneurs,” one man said. “And that’s the reason why the cops don’t stop. Because they see it’s not about violence here.”
Sellers say they’ve always been in the background doing their business in the shadows. Now they feel they can more openly promote it.
Just as Duddridge was talking to some buyers and sellers, park police walked by but didn’t stop to inspect. A few vendors still decided to pack up just in case.
“You guys just saw the parks department come by, so is that why you cleaned everything up?” Duddridge asked.
“Of course. Sometimes we got– they’re just doing their job,” a vendor said.
It’s not just in the park where reefer is rampant. Trucks and vans have popped up around the city — from Weed World to Stone Love to Uncle Bud.
Duddridge tried to ask one vendor in a van about his business, but he said, “No comment.”
According to the recently formed Office of Cannabis Management, it’s illegal to:
- Sell cannabis without a license,
- Grow it at home,
- Or smoke in a car or private business.
But it is legal for adults 21 and over to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and share it with another adult above 21.
It’s that word “share” that has some vendors skirting laws. For example, selling a haircut or art or a membership and then “gifting” a customer weed.
“What we’re seeing, though, is some pretty enterprising entrepreneurs,” state Sen. Diane Savino said. “This is going to require a lot more enforcement. Otherwise, we’ll wind up like other states where it will be the Wild West and it won’t work then.”
Savino introduced a bill to make it illegal to not only sell but transfer cannabis without a license.
“We’re trying to also create an environment where people can feel some level of competence and safety in the product that they’re purchasing,” she said.
The Office of Cannabis Management has sent 52 cease and desist letters to illegal vendors that say if operations don’t stop, those vendors can face hefty fines and may not get approved for a license to join the market when it finally opens.
The state has already issued 50 licenses for hemp growers to grow marijuana and another 50 licenses for dispensaries with more to come. They expect consumers to be able to legally buy at dispensaries by the end of the year.