Up in smoke: At two year mark, unlicensed marijuana threatens to kill legal industry

Today marks two years since the State of New York approved the legalization of recreational marijuana. The grand total of legal adult-use recreational cannabis dispensaries in the five boroughs now stands at four. But that’s only the legal businesses. The unregulated, unlicensed marijuana businesses have been cropping up like weeds, weeds that seem resistant to the fumigant of enforcement.

We were intrigued last month when Mayor Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced an initiative to pursue formal complaints against unlicensed weed shops and taking the novel approach of threatening hundreds throughout the borough to have their landlords forcibly evict them if they remained in noncompliance with the law.

Since then, the numbers have indeed moved, but in the wrong direction, with the estimated 1,400 shops at the time having ballooned to more than 1,700 citywide now. It seems like the crackdown was more bark than bite, after all.

At this level of proliferation, there’s a good chance this illegal market will collapse under its own weight and some illegal shops will close for business reasons, or shops that sold unlicensed weed in addition to legal products will drop the riskier business as over-saturation saps profits. Yet by that point, the massive unregulated sector will probably have taken the burgeoning legal market down with it, as the few legal recreational dispensaries find themselves swamped and outmaneuvered by rivals that can sell untaxed cannabis at lower rates.

The rush to legalize was haphazard and sloppy, without having regulations ready to go at the outset. Because of that failure, the lofty promises to give a head start for those who suffered from unjust punishments under harsh drug laws have been worthless.

Any illegal liquor stores springing up would be shuttered immediately, but government authorities claim they are powerless under existing laws to act on the pot shops. Maybe try passing Gov. Hochul’s good plan to allow the state to shut down the illegal places with $10,000 per day fines and $200,000 fines for illicit cannabis.