New York’s black market for weed thrives ahead of legal sales

Farma Darya

Good morning and welcome to Monday’s New York Health Care newsletter, where we keep you posted on what’s coming up this week in health care news, and offer a look back at the important news from last week.

Although New York legalized adult-use marijuana more than a year ago, the state has yet to issue a single dispensary license. The result has been a weed free-for-all: Cannabis seems to be for sale everywhere — head shops, bodegas, even from folding tables on street corners. Some dealers brazenly sell in public, and many boast their products were grown in California.

The outcome is not unlike what happened when California legalized marijuana. Six years later, illegal sellers and growers continue to thrive there. Despite those struggles, New York leaders decided to take a gentle approach with anyone selling without a license. Now, an industry expected to generate a $4.2 billion market by 2027 could stumble on arrival as it competes with the booming black market.

… When New York became the 15th state to legalize cannabis, lawmakers saw an opportunity to reverse past wrongs. They moved to expunge certain marijuana-related criminal records and offered priority on marijuana business licenses to “justice-involved people” with prior weed convictions.

Against that backdrop, lawmakers have hesitated to throw the book at those now caught selling cannabis without a license and gave hazy enforcement instructions to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. “Since we didn’t think this was going to happen, we didn’t put anything in the bill that gave OCM and the police departments very clear-cut rules of the road to close them down,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the bill to legalize recreational cannabis.

Krueger believes police already have the right to seize illegal products and shutter offending shops. New York Mayor Eric Adams, a fellow Democrat, didn’t appear to share that viewpoint, however.

… Earlier this year, a bill stalled in Albany that would have strengthened penalties for illicit cannabis sales and clarified the OCM’s role in enforcement.

Many stores selling unregulated cannabis products are already licensed to sell alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. Governments could revoke offending stores’ licenses, said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, but “we have not sought to do that at all.”

… The recent enforcement push may not be enough to blunt the illegal market’s impact, especially with the first regulated stores planned to open in the coming months.


— New York NAACP, the Center for Black Health and Equity, Miss Abbie’s Kids and others will rally today in support of proposed legislation that would prohibit sales of flavored tobacco products in Westchester County.

— Compassion & Choices will kick off a two-month statewide grassroots campaign on Wednesday to promote passage of the “Medical Aid in Dying Act” in 2023.

— The Public Health and Health Planning Council will hold a special full council meeting on Thursday.

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TALK ABOUT IT — POLITICO’s Anna Gronewold: As New York Democrats debate whether they talked about reproductive rights too much in the lead up to Election Day, women’s advocates in Puerto Rico are urging them to talk about it more.

A group of health workers and advocates told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other elected officials from New York who were in San Juan for the annual SOMOS conference that women on the island are in dire need for more reproductive care. That includes contraceptives and pre- and postpartum care — but they are left out of conversations on the issue taking place among states.

Although abortion remains legal in Puerto Rico, access to the procedure is limited, largely due to availability, clinic locations and costs. The clinics receive almost no public funding. And there are few long-term resources to empower women, such as comprehensive sex education and resources for working mothers, said the advocates gathered at Centro MAM, a community clinic that serves the maternal health population in Puerto Rico.

SEE YOU IN COURT — POLITICO’s Mona Zhang: A federal judge has temporarily blocked New York from issuing its first recreational marijuana retail licenses in certain regions, rattling the state’s nascent cannabis industry.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe has granted a temporary restraining order to Variscite, which challenged the marijuana licensing scheme for violating the dormant Commerce Clause. The injunction applies to five geographic areas: Finger Lakes, Central New York, Western New York, Mid-Hudson and Brooklyn.

In his ruling, Sharpe cited cases in Maine, Missouri and Michigan where cannabis laws were successfully challenged on similar constitutional grounds. The state’s application requirements “will have a discriminatory effect on out-of-state residents seeking a CAURD license,” the court order read.

WE LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU: This roundup is for you! Send news tips, health tips, ideas, criticisms and corrections to [email protected].

NOW WE KNOW — Laughing is good for your health.

TODAY’S TIP — The Los Angeles Times offers tips to help your mental health following the end of daylight-savings time.

MAKE SURE TO FOLLOW Shannon @ShannonYoung413 on Twitter. And for all New Jersey health news, check out Daniel Han, @danieljhan_.

STUDY THIS — Via CNN: “A mindfulness meditation course may be as effective at reducing anxiety as a common medication, according to a new study.”

STAT looks at how a “Democratic Senate improves the outlook for Biden health and science priorities, including key nominees.”

Many Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have long-term plans for when family members can no longer care for them, Kaiser Health News reports.

The New York Times reports that inspectors repeatedly cited a Manhattan nursing home before a Legionnaires’ outbreak.

“Colorado voters have passed a ballot initiative to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for people 21 and older and to create state-regulated ‘healing centers,’” The Associated Press reports.

BuzzFeed News looks at how an Ohio county is trying to erase up to $240 million in medical debt.

Republicans nationwide leaned hard on crime in the midterms — and mostly fell flat, POLITICO’s Erin Durkin reports. But it did gangbusters in New York, where a tabloid drumbeat of chaos resonated with voters out in the city’s suburbs, helping the GOP claim one open New York House seat and wrest three more from Democratic control.

POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian reports that just days after Republicans won supermajorities in the Florida Legislature, the state Senate is considering stricter abortion limits during the upcoming legislative session.

R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Newport menthol cigarettes, and several other tobacco manufacturers have filed a complaint and requested a preliminary injunction against the state of California in the District Court for the Southern District of California, arguing its voter-approved ban on flavored tobacco products is unconstitutional, POLITICO’s Katherine Ellen Foley reports.

POLITICO’s Ben Leonard reports that Congress is likely to take up a temporary extension of Medicare rules by the end of the year that would make it easier for patients to use telehealth, according to four health care lobbyists and a House aide.

Gender-affirming care providers are lobbying to ensure they can continue to prescribe testosterone virtually after the pandemic ends, Ben also reports.

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