One of the stupidest continuing trends in cannabis is the idea of pushing enforcement before access.
Much of the time this trend falls on the heels of shitty regulatory rollouts or subpar companies selling mids to the masses coming to terms with the reality of the moment. When it’s time for someone to blame, it’s usually the traditional market that takes most of the hate.
Frequently people speak as if the 50-year-old marketplace mostly forced to exist in the shadows due to the continuing prohibition of cannabis came out of nowhere. The buster would have you think it appeared just to ruin their dreams of world domination.
Regulators have been screwing up legal cannabis rollouts state by state for a decade now. Just like the dudes with bad pot, they’ve been quick to blame the underground economy for why their master plan went off the rails. With cannabis laws in the country currently the sworn enemy of those who like a dash of homogeneity in their public policy, there is always something new to blame the black market for.
But New York might be the most fascinating case in all of this yet as they work to push unlicensed sellers back underground to the delivery networks that fed NYC’s thirst for cannabis for many years. What makes it nuts is the grand total of eight storefronts. That works out to roughly one dispensary for every 2.5 million people. Those lines are going to suck. And I think it’s fair to say this can in no way, shape, or form be considered real access, especially given how many people want to smoke pot. This is more of a pandering approach. At the very least there should be 50 equity shops in the city right now, snowballing well down the mountain for other operators hoping to get in the mix in the not too distant future following the effective execution of the equity program.
But officials think enforcement is the answer.
“New York is proud to have undertaken the most equitable legal cannabis roll-out in the nation and the State will not stand idle as unlicensed operators break the law and sell untested products to underage New Yorkers,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said last week. “These enforcement actions are critical steps to protect and help those individuals who were promised a shot to start a legal business and be successful. Additionally, these unlicensed operators undermine the State’s efforts to generate substantial funds for a social equity fund that will go into the communities that have been hardest hit by over-prosecution of the cannabis laws in the past.”
The most important thing to note here is these storefronts are just the recent physical manifestation above the water of the iceberg that is the New York trap scene. The retail element is a hyper fraction of the dudes still flipping sacks from Long Island to Canada. The state chipping a few cubes off into a glass is a joke. These eight stores currently open as of this Tuesday have access and first dibs on all the legal marijuana in the state right now. If they can’t find some heaters in the mix that make them commercially viable while they have a monopoly on the marketplace they are absolutely fucking hopeless.
The handful of trap shops that got hit across NYC last week will just serve as figureheads of a pandering enforcement. Even if the Trap NYC-retail experience is temporary, the cloud of that marketplace over the legal market isn’t the problem, it is the lack of development within the regulated market itself. Worst case scenario, the city uses the underground economy as an excuse to go back to being one of the most prolific arresters of misdemeanor cannabis crimes in history.
And again it’s not just the regulators spouting this nonsense but the people trying to dip their toes into legal cannabis after they made their exit from whatever space they’d previously looted and pillaged. It’s a lot easier to tell their dads (or wherever they found their funding) the real problem they’re running into is some guy with a four-lighter in Queens and not their business plans.
And most importantly, the current access levels in New York shouldn’t prove to be a talking point in the damnation of Social Equity programs. The whole rollout was the problem, not the idea of giving the communities that were hit the hardest by the war on drugs the best shot possible in the industry.
Another problem with enforcement without access is the vacuum of violence it creates. I’ll explain. A lot of enforcement on the trap side of things is focused on warehouse grows that have a bigger demand than ever across America. When a warehouse gets hit, its customers don’t magically disappear. This type of situation has certainly led to at least some of the waves of violence we’ve seen at legal dispensaries, distributors and cultivation sites, as people looked to replenish their wares at the cost of the legal market. Sure there are plenty of for-profit people to rob, but I would be hard pressed to believe with the thousands of crimes that have targeted the legal cannabis industry over the last decade that none of them were a direct result of enforcement.
Officials should be focusing on opening doors to dispensaries instead of prison cells. The real solution is normalizing dispensaries everywhere. People don’t buy cannabis off the street because they want to, they buy it because it’s probably better with no taxes and easily accessible. While it will be tough for rec shops to match the lack of taxes and overhead the streets have to offer, they have a shot at accessible heat. That’s a much better plan than trying to pin your problems on some OG that’s been selling overpriced hydro in Brooklyn since the mid 1990s.