OCM's Chris Alexander on Spread of Illegal Cannabis Shops in NYC: 'It's Been Particularly Bad Here'

OCM director Chris Alexander at the NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally in May (left) and Empire Cannabis Cannabis, one of New York’s unlicensed operators, some of whose products were flagged in a recent survey.

New York is a hot mess as far as cannabis is concerned. While the state's Office of Cannabis Management recently issued the first 36 retail permits, New York City's illicit market is growing by leaps and bounds.

Take my neighborhood in the Bronx, for example. One day last week on Broadway in the Kingsbridge area I saw a new store going up with a bright CANNABIS DISPENSARY sign advertising on top. They were busily constructing the space, with saws whirring. But no authority was there to stop it. 

These stores are selling cannabis flower and products that may or may not be tainted, based on a new survey by the New York Medical Cannabis Association. This survey hopes to steer people away from the illicit stores that are popping up like daisies in the spring all over the city's five boroughs.

I'm not particularly concerned about contaminated cannabis. I'm pretty much a flower guy. We've been smoking unregulated weed my entire lifetime in New York and I haven't got sick. However, I do think edibles and vape carts should be tested because of dosage and potential adulteration. But flower is relatively safe.

On Dec, 1, OCM executive Chris Alexander discussed the state's concerns with Brian Lehrer at WNYC


Chris Alexander: "This is definititely an uphill battle now as we take on this really bad proliferation of these illegal shops"


"Illegal Shops"

"These shops are not selling products that have gone through regulatory oversight. Oftentimes these products are failed products that have come from another state... [These shops] are going to suffer and have been suffering the consequences of that decision to operate outside the regulated market... We're really frustrated with these operators and we have started to take broader action and seize quite a bit of product, but this is definitely an uphill battle now as we take on this really bad proliferation of these illegal shops... There's always some proliferation post legalization... It's been particularly bad here."


"Harmful Contaminants"

"Folks are going to continue to buy products until they see reports like the one that came out acknowledging the harmful contaminants in those products. While I do believe this is a threat to the legal regulated market, it's difficult for a product that is inherently unsafe to compete with a more quality-produced product that's going to be coming from our small farmers and our producers across the state." 


"Initial Delivery Services"

"Within the authorization to have a dispensary, you're allowed to deliver your products. Pre-orders can be delivered. We're waiting for these [retail] locations to be finalized. They will be able to conduct some iniitial delivery services while they wait for the dispensaries to be completed. I'm really excited to get sales out the door."


"Transition to Adult Use"

"The medical operators are going to be allowed to transition into the adult-use market and be able to sell adult-use products after some time. But they will have to choose which dispensaries can transition to adult use."


So, in summary, just two seizures of illegal cannabis products have been reported so far in New York City. The actions Alexander is referring to have gone unreported or haven't happened at all besides the recent raids of two shops in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Little effort is being made to stop the spread of the illicit market. Unregulated cannabis may be bad for you and legal weed is safe, or at least safer. The problem is the new shops and delivery services will not be able to compete pricewise with illegal sellers. (I recently bought quality flower for $25 per eight; that's less than half the legal price.) Delivery will come first followed by brick and mortar shops opening next year. And some medical MSOs may be able to crossover to the adult-use market, but it's unclear whom and when. Stay tuned.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.