New York authorities are intensifying their efforts to combat the proliferation of unlicensed shops selling marijuana across the state in response to the ongoing struggle to establish a thriving legal marketplace for the substance. With the legalization of cannabis in 2021, an influx of unauthorized vendors peddling cannabis, vape products, edibles and more has posed a significant challenge to the state’s legal cannabis industry, with New York City bearing the brunt. Presently, only 23 legal cannabis dispensaries are operational statewide, and nine are located in NYC.
A recent study conducted by the Independent Budget Office of NYC revealed that approximately 1,500 unregulated retailers within the city may be holding marijuana products worth $484 million. If these products were to be sold through legal channels, it could generate a substantial $19.4 million in revenue for NYC.
In response, the state has escalated its efforts to crack down on unregulated shops by increasing the frequency of inspections, imposing fines and even ordering closures when necessary. These measures extend beyond the stores themselves, with landlords now facing penalties of up to $10,000 if they knowingly lease commercial properties to unlicensed sellers.
The crackdown on these illicit operations is not just a legal matter; it also has significant economic implications. Unlicensed sales deprive the state of much-needed revenue, as the state imposes a 13% retail tax on all cannabis products, with additional taxes based on the potency levels of THC.
Beyond the financial considerations, unlicensed shops also present substantial health risks. A 2022 study commissioned by the New York Medical Marijuana Industry Association, which examined products from 20 illicit stores in NYC, discovered that around 40% of these products contained harmful contaminants such as salmonella, lead and E. coli.
The state’s Marijuana Control Board recently announced plans to open up license applications to the general public as well as to multistate medical companies and manufacturers. Previously, licenses were restricted to individuals with prior cannabis-related convictions under the Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program. This move is expected to expand the number of legal cannabis shops throughout the state, further shaping the future of New York’s cannabis industry.
While illicit sales have been fueled partly by delays in the opening of legal dispensaries, experts anticipate a decline in such sales in the years ahead. New Frontier Data, a marijuana research company, projects that illicit sales, which were estimated to reach $7 billion annually in 2023, will decrease to approximately $3 billion by 2030 in New York.
The black market isn’t only a concern in New York. Major marijuana companies such as Tilray Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) (TSX: TLRY) also have to contend with illicit marijuana sellers in the jurisdictions where they operate, and authorities are constantly trying to weed out black market actors so that only licensed operators can sell their products.
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