A joint effort: Despite stumbles, NY can turn cannabis industry into a boon

A joint effort: Despite stumbles, NY can turn cannabis industry into a boon

As far as setting an example goes, the Housing Works cannabis dispensary at 1 Astor Place does well for itself.

The first legal shop to open with an adult-use recreational dispensary license is clean, well-managed, rigorous about ID checks above and beyond what state regulations require, and is cheerfully marketed without presenting itself as too attractive to minors.

Let’s hope this becomes the norm within the nascent industry. Unfortunately, the state paved a rocky road. Despite well-meaning intentions, the year-and-a-half delta between the legalization of recreational marijuana use and the issuance of the first retail licenses created a free-for-all of unlicensed shops proliferating and establishing market dominance before the legal players had a chance.

The unlicensed product seizures by the city sheriff are positive but somewhat cursory, affecting a tiny sliver of the estimated 1,400(!) unsanctioned shops across the five boroughs and inflicting damage that may rise only to the level of cost of doing business. A confusing application process and delays in promised business development assistance and funding only added stumbling blocks to the path of the regulated retail shops, blunting the impact of the state’s effort to let people affected by prior criminalization lead the way in the new industry.

Left unaddressed, the head start that the illegal shops have established could become a death spiral for the legal ones as they struggle to attract customers for their taxed and inspected — and consequently more expensive — cannabis. That means doling out real and very public consequences to malefactors, particularly those that are selling not only untaxed but dangerous and uninspected products.

Clearing obstacles doesn’t mean the state Office of Cannabis Management and local partners let the new shops have free rein. Without attentive oversight, the legal marijuana industry could repeat the errors of the tobacco industry before it, with tacit appeals to minors and too-slick marketing. The state still has an opportunity to shape the market in a way that will be a net good for the state and the public, but the clock is ticking.

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Region: New York

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