New York’s rollout of legal weed shops has been a mess, to say the least. Designed to revolutionize the legal weed marketplace, New York has instead fallen short either by design or outside factors, including numerous lawsuits.
One of the most significant ripple effects in this series of shortcomings is the immense impact on New York’s licensed growers. Farmers are sitting on one to two seasons worth of product, equaling an estimated 240,000-pound surplus. The situation has become so dire that many New York growers report living on dire straits, with some resorting to selling essential equipment to cover costs.
New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) approved a grower’s showcase in July 2023 to help alleviate the issue. The following month saw the rollout of its first showcase. In total, 48 events took place. Forty-six licensed events are ongoing, providing legal access to New Yorkers—with most open one or more days weekly until the current permit ends on December 31, 2023. A possible extension was in play until recently, and remained undetermined.
The Manhattan-Brooklyn Experience
New York’s Grower Showcases stretch across the state, from the five boroughs to the Finger Lakes to Buffalo and beyond. Saratoga Springs, a town 40 minutes north of the capital Albany and roughly an hour west from legal weed state Vermont did around $70,000 in sales during its first two days on September 3rd and 5th. The event gained popularity in the ensuing weeks before going on hiatus for a month in October to move indoors. The showcase reopened on November 11.
Positive sales and foot traffic have been reported across many of the showcases. But that hasn’t been the case at every location. In Manhattan, the Hell’s Kitchen Cannabis Collective, a farmers market inside a retail space, struggled to attract clientele while remaining compliant with state law. With minimal signage options allowed, spotting the HKCC’s side street location among the sea of shops and restaurants was challenging.
At the same time, it is easy to walk in any direction nearby and find bodegas and unlicensed boof shops selling their unlicensed pot. While the HKCC remains barely noticeable, the illegal competition is out and proud with LED lights, bold signs, and everything else that is synonymous with New York weed shops at this point. HKCC Founder Patrick Conlin told me in early November that the shop made door signs highlighting their licensed status. Otherwise, the shop is limited with legal marketing options.
“We’re tucked away off the street, which is great for the community board,” said Conlin, who added, “Just putting letters on our door isn’t cutting it.”
When you find the location, it can be a welcome destination for enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Featuring several strains, edibles, and extracts from local small cultivators and producers, shoppers can get an idea of what New York small growers, including many minority-owned ventures practicing organic growing methods, have to offer. The location featured several growers events over the past few months, allowing buyers to interact with the featured cultivators.
A potential saving grace for the HKCC could be its downstairs event space, which successfully hosted an industry gathering in November. If more events were to occur, the destination could find itself with a needed additional revenue stream. Another standout positive is HKCC’s small but dedicated staff. Speaking more about effects and terp profiles rather than industry sales jargon, the team provided an educated, refreshing tone more legal shops should look into adopting.
A similar experience took place at Good Grades on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. The Black-owned Good Grades was warm in spirit but minimal in shoppers. Granted, it was Wednesday around 11 in the morning when I visited. Like in Manhattan, the limited signage made the shop blend into the string of retail stores along the block. Inside, the dispensary was large with lots of room, filled with a few art pieces and a wall showcasing various iconic hip-hop albums. The sales counter had two friendly, plant-passionate budtenders. When I arrived, an elderly couple and their budtender eagerly swapped edible recipes.
My assigned budtender and I talked about effects and a little about indica and sativa, which I could have done without. I hate hearing about that, but I get why it continues to be used. It’s often easier to explain a rather binary concept than terps or whole plant profiles to a newcomer. And most existing consumers use the terminology, so why rock the boat? That aside, I enjoyed the shop, but it didn’t leave any lasting impressions. Good Grades has since closed its Brooklyn location as part of its soft launch plan, and now operates a Jamaica, Queens location, the first legal dispensary in the borough.
There was much to enjoy about the Manhattan and Brooklyn growers showcases. But the retail locations and city prices left me feeling underwhelmed and longing for a true farmers market experience. I don’t blame either shop here. They worked within the confines of what they were dealt.
The price-quality comparison wasn’t ideal. At HKCC, I got two eighths from two different growers for roughly $110 after tax. With the idea being a small business showcase, I naively thought there would be better deals. Maybe that’s on me, but usually, two eighths of long-unsold weed running a similar cost to a fresh half ounce is not going to win over many buyers. But, living in New York City comes at a premium, which applies to weed as well. So, here we are.
I was excited by the aroma of a Lilac Diesel GMO I picked up. Unfortunately, the smoke was one of the more abrasive on the throat I can remember in recent memory. The Humboldt Headband from Bud + Boro was fine enough. I wish I could’ve tried more, but economic times are tight. The prices were a bit better at Good Grades, and the quality was equal or slightly more enjoyable than my HKCC picks. Two eighths cost a little more than $80 after three rounds of taxes applied. The Trainwreck by Alchemy Pure was fine and got me high with a smooth enough smoke. The Guava Jam from Rolling Green had a pleasant, fruity aroma and smoked well.
Overall, the Manhattan and Brooklyn showcases felt like a 3 out of 5 star experience, with passionate people and decent enough flower. But city prices, minimal nature in the city, and strict marketing rules made the experience feel more like classic retail than the farmers market I had been hoping to find.
New Paltz Provides a Refreshing Alternative
Wanting more of a farmer’s market experience, I turned to New Paltz, a two-hour and change train ride away from New York City. New Paltz was the site of the first legal cannabis grower showcase in August 2023. Numerous New York weed buddies and sources referred the quaint college town to me, with a few essentially calling it the ideal showcase experience. After visiting in November, I largely agree.
Nestled inside the town’s municipal building for the cold months, the showcase featured several tables with numerous brands. Shoppers could buy usual items like flower, pre-rolls, edibles and a small number of concentrates from six or so vendors. Refreshingly, and much like the city showcases, these sellers waxed on more about consuming pot than hawking a brand.
One of the top standout differences at New Paltz, besides the cool autumn air and nature, was menu transparency. Before even getting to the check-in desk, I was given a two-sided sales sheet featuring all of the products available and taxed and pre-tax prices.
Once outside New York City, the prices decline. That was the case in New Paltz, where several eighths went for $30 pre-tax. The most expensive item I picked up on my $258 tab was a $50 2g hash hole made by Luci. On the low end of the pickups, I snagged two glass pre-filled chillum pipes from Jane West at $10 a piece after tax. Patrick, the veteran behind the sales desk, won me over with his passion for the plant and the idea of picking up two reusable glass pipes for trips. I’m a sucker for reusable packaging.
When it comes to drawbacks, New Paltz wasn’t without its faults. Like the other showcases, the flower quality varied and didn’t stack up to numerous unlicensed sources. Much of the New Paltz flower was extremely dry, which is sad because some of these strains probably smelled great when they were supposed to hit dispensary shelves.
Unlike New York City, the price is justified or close to where it should be. A $30 price tag for a dry but still aromatic enough strain of Hella Jelly from Rize isn’t all that bad. Would I pick the $30 Hella Jelly over a fresh Strawberry Jelly from the Bronx’s New Roots Garden for double or more the price? Absolutely not. But after a year of aging on the shelf, Rize’s flower still provided a good smoke and a pleasant flavor. It may not win any Cannabis Cups, but I bet it would satisfy the cannabis curious, newcomers and those without deep understanding of how the plant can taste and smell. Is that ideal? No, but it’s a good intro point to finding fresh bud from these brands or other growers in the future.
Farmers Showcase is a Solid But Far-From Perfect Effort
The New York Growers Showcase appeared to be a largely successful endeavor. Despite the positive feedback, its future remained in doubt just three weeks until the program’s end date on December 31, 2023. With the showcase always intended to be a stopgap sales pipeline for small state growers, uncertainty grew as the state approved existing medical operators and plans to approve hundreds more applicants in early 2024. The recent news followed New York settling its most glaring court case in late November. The state also opened its application window to non-equity applicants in early October.
As additional dispensaries hit the market, the need for the grower showcase came further in doubt. But with three weeks left, many advocates, operators and lawmakers hoped to see an extension of some kind. Instead, on December 12, New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) announced the program’s termination at the end of 2023. The decision appears to have been abrupt and out of left field, as state Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo said she had assumed the program would be extended.
Next steps remain unclear. A compromise with OCM could take place. So too could a state bill, though it’s unclear if Governor Kathy Hochul would sign the measure. While the uncertainty looms, the fate of the thousands of remaining pounds of overstock sit, wasting away. By the time this article posts, some may be on their final days of freshness. And with that overstock dying, I suppose the state could further justify jettisoning the program.
Whatever happens from here, I hope the state program has a place for some type of farmers market, especially in outdoor communal spaces where people can mingle, smoke and get to know their neighbors and the plant. But after the latest OCM decision, I can’t say I have much faith. I don’t know if it’s OCM or New York politics at-large, but something stinks. It stunk when the state failed the formerly incarcerated. It stunk when the state failed minority applicants. And now it stinks when the state fails the farmers one more time.
Whether they be OGs, tryhards, chads or whatever, these growers got dealt a bad hand by the state. Then, while gasping for their metaphorical last breaths before drowning, they get thrown a lifeline, only to watch the rescue boat sail away with the inflatable ring skipping across the top of the ocean until fading into the horizon.
Here’s hoping the future involves legal farmers markets, providing ongoing platforms for New York’s small pot growers and craft enthusiasts. And if not, here’s hoping the underground market continues its similar endeavors. Someone has to do it, right?