Life In the Slow Lane: New York's Legal Cannabis Shops Struggle to Survive

A Tale of Two Shops: CONBUD at 85 Delancey St. and Zaza City at 110 Delancey St. (CelebStoner photos)

How it's going, I ask Con Marte, who opened one of the New York's few legal cannabis stores despite an ongoing injunction blocking other similar openings.

"It's slow," says the former ex-con who spent time in jail on cannabis charges.

Walk down Delancey St. and the surrounding blocks in the Lower East Side and you'll find dozens of illegal shops competing with CONBUD, like Zaza City across the street. Marte estimates there are 60 of them near his regulated business.

How did he get to open? Marte threatened to sue the state, like veteran Carmine Fiore and others did to force the injunction that's been in effect since August. A settlement was announced this week, but the injunction has not yet ended. Fiore contended he and other vets were unfairly excluded from the licensing process.

On Ninth Ave., we marvel at the number of illegal shops, all with shiny neon pot leaves advertising THC. 

There are currently just nine legal stores in New York City and 23 throughout the state.

I purchase an eighth of outdoor-grown New York State bud and wish Marte luck. On the way out he informs me Mike Tyson will be making an in-store appearance on December 8. That should drum up some business.

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

A novel solution to the problem of too few retail outlets since the first one opened last December is the Cannabis Growers Showcases that have popped up around the state. There are about 60 of them. One is located on W. 40 St. across the street from the Port Authority.

It's down the block and slightly out the way of foot traffic. Inside, there were no customers. Products from various brands are displayed on tables. We buy several pre-rolls and have a nice discussion with proprietor Patrick Conlin. I'd been to the store a few weeks ago when a lounge was operating downstaris. But alas the lounge was closed since it's not legal to operate under current rules. For now, that was a one-time event.

Patrick Conlin of Hell’s Kitchen Cannabis Collective, located at 356 W. 40 St (CelebStoner photo)

Conlin has until the end of the year to stay open unless the Office of Cannabis Management relents and allows him and other showcases to continue into 2024. He's applied for an extension. "We have regular customers," Conlin notes.

They should. Hell's Kitchen Cannabis Collective is the only legal game on Manhattan's Westside. Yet during a half-hour visit, we were the only custiomers.

Back on Ninth Ave., we marvel at the number of illegal shops, all with shiny neon pot leaves advertising THC. There are at least three per block. We walk into one. A woman is sitting on the floor behind the counter. She gradually picks herself up and answers our questions. It's a far cry from Conlin's attentiveness and the trained staff at CONBUD. If this is the best the illegal shops have to offer, they will be shortlived.

New York has a major dilemma as it continues to roll out the adult-use program. Most of the thousands of lllegal stores operate without impunity. Some get raided and usually reopen the next day. There appears to be no solution to this problem. 

Well, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has one. In September, he proposed:

“One other consideration in addressing this growing issue could be the legitimization of certain unlicensed retailers via transitional licenses, which would ultimately place them under state regulation and ensure health and safety guidelines are followed, and of course, that there are no sales to underage individuals. This expansion could be in collaboration with those who have been part of the legacy cannabis market, with a goal of directing profits and funds back in the hands of individuals and communities harmed by the so-called War on Drugs.”

Sounds like a plan.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

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