Last month, Cash Only linked up with the founder of Uncle Budd’s Bud Bus to learn what it’s like to run a mobile marijuana dispensary in NYC, and the story immediately became more complex than we anticipated.
As we’ve noted before, weed is now legal in New York, but a regulated retail system is still a work in progress. So technically no one is allowed to sell weed for the time being.
But since the NYPD is mostly embracing a policy of non-interference, savvy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this purgatorial moment and setting up a variety of semi-legal cannabis businesses. These include brick-and-mortar pot shops and cannabis speakeasies, as well as weed buses that post up in areas with heavy foot traffic and sell kush out their windows like Marijuana Mister Softee trucks.
Uncle Budd is arguably the pioneer of this gray market model, embracing a legal loophole by gifting weed (not selling it) in exchange for a donation. At the height of his operation, he oversaw a dozen weed buses, and you could find these de facto mobile dispensaries in SoHo, Harlem, Midtown, and several other neighborhoods. They were hard to miss with their flashing LED signs and unapologetic weed imagery plastered on the sides of the massive cars.
Then, in early September, nearly two dozen weed buses (including Uncle Budd’s fleet, as well as competitors) were towed by the New York City Sheriff’s office, and it supposedly had nothing to do with the wares they kept onboard.
“There’s an issue with the selling of products people are not licensed to sell,” an NYC Deputy Sheriff told NBC. “That is an issue, but the main concern today is what’s happening on the streets,” meaning registration and parking violations.
All the buses were returned within days of being confiscated… except Uncle Budd’s Bud Bus. Over two months later, 11 of their buses are still impounded. They got one back after paying $5,000 in fees, but its electrical system is no longer functional (and it was working fine prior to being confiscated).
We wanted to get some insight into why Uncle Budd’s competitors got their buses back while his were still being held by the city. So Cash Only linked with the impresario in Harlem and visited one of his office-traps to chop it up.
Then, while getting some background details, we noticed framed lyrics on the wall and asked Uncle Budd what the deal was. It turns out he was incarcerated for 21 years, and the lyrics were from the Staind song “Outside,” which Uncle Budd said kept him from losing his spirit while locked up.
The future remains uncertain for Uncle Budd, but the man is passionate, experienced, and deeply connected to Harlem. We also think it’s questionable (to put it lightly) that a victim of the War on Drugs, as well as a person of color, isn’t being given a leg up in New York’s impending recreational cannabis retail market. And furthermore, why haven’t the Uncle Budd Bud Buses been returned while his competitors who ripped his model got theirs back?
The Uncle Budd story is still playing out, and we’ll be filming follow-up interviews with him in the coming months. Stay tuned for more.