Opinion: Illegal Pot Shops Threaten New York’s Cannabis Legalization Goals

“Licensed sellers simply cannot compete with presumably less expensive unregulated cannabis retailers, and our communities cannot lose much-needed revenue that goes to fund substance use education, prevention and treatment initiatives.”

Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office of Photography

Mayor Eric Adams holds up cannabis edibles at a press conference in December announcing a campaign against illegal marijuana shops.

When New York State legalized adult use of cannabis by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA), the law was praised for its focus on social equity, including provisions aimed at to ensure that communities devastated by the skewed drug policies of decades past were the first to benefit from this new industry.

A little-known benefit was also designed to address the substance use disorder crisis and preventable overdoses caused by opioids: a portion of sales will go to support several education, prevention and treatment initiatives.

But two years later, all those benefits of a legal marijuana industry could be gone when the illegal market explodes.

The legalization of adult cannabis has allowed the proliferation of illicit shops selling unregulated products. Unlicensed vendors are thwarting the critical goals of the MRTA at a particularly deadly time in the substance use disorder crisis by significantly devaluing the licensed program. This is a disservice to retailers who are looking to join a thriving new economic venture and who have gone through the proper processes to build their business fairly.

Unlicensed sellers don’t even try to hide their nefarious and illegal actions, but rather blatantly act in plain sight. There are dozens of smoke stores within the blocks surrounding the three licensed stores in Manhattan. These vendors are undermining the new industry and hurting our communities by blatantly breaking various laws.

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