By Ed Hersh
Ambiguities in the regulations governing New York State’s rollout of licensed marijuana dispensaries continue to cause confusion and concern all over the city, and the Upper West Side is no exception.
As we’ve been chronicling in the West Side Rag, unlicensed “smoke shops” — many of which have been observed to be illegally selling marijuana — have popped up since the possession and use of marijuana were legalized last year.
You may have noticed that a so-called “weed truck” has been parked on Broadway, between West 83rd and West 84th Streets, brightly painted in orange-and-green, with a menu board that offers a wide range of edible and smoke-able products. Council Member Gale Brewer has also noticed; her spokesperson told us that, just today, she sent a letter to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, which stated:
I have received several complaints about this vehicle, particularly that the branding of the products sold are appealing to target children. This violates Office of Cannabis Management approved regulatory packaging guidelines, including the usage of bright and bold colors, fun fonts, cartoon characters, cereal flavors, and more. Constituents are also concerned that it’s located near a school.
Are the weed trucks themselves legal?
Like so much surrounding the legalization of marijuana in New York State — it’s complicated. According to Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman for the New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), right now, there are NO legal, non-medical marijuana dispensaries in the state; any smoke shop, convenience store, or truck that is selling marijuana is doing so illegally.
Yet, despite the large number of smoke and convenience shops and weed trucks in New York City alone, to date the OCM has sent out only 52 “cease-and-desist” letters in the entire state, most of them to upstate sellers.
WSR visited the “High Rollerz” truck on July 12th – before Brewer’s letter was written — and spoke to Cardell Speights, its owner. He was happy to talk to WSR about his business; “I’m very transparent,” he said, and claimed that the menu board on his truck represents only hemp and CBD-based products, which, because of their low levels of THC (the hallucinogenic component of marijuana), are legal to sell in New York, and for which, he said, he has a license. He added that he does not sell or offer marijuana.
Of course, there is no way for us to independently verify his claims on the content of what he is selling or how he sells it, or whether marijuana was available.
Even the distinctions between marijuana and hemp-based products (often called “delta-8”) are confusing, as The New York Times reported on Tuesday. “Some early research supports the claim that delta-8 could cause a milder high than traditional marijuana,” The Times wrote. “But because the drug is unregulated, the vast majority of delta-8 products on the market don’t resemble what’s tested in a lab and can be contaminated with other cannabinoids and heavy metals. As a result, many experts advise against its use.”
Speights told us he is doing his best to stay within the law; he said he checks IDs to make sure anyone stepping up to the truck is at least 21 (it’s on his menu board), and parks away from schools, although Brewer’s letter disagrees. He says his incentive is simple: he’s an aspiring entrepreneur and plans to apply for a license to open a legal marijuana dispensary when available. He’s been attending seminars and consulting with attorneys on the process, and wants to have a clean record to do so. In fact, he is critical of the unregulated smoke shops that are opening all over the city. Speights said bluntly, “they are f***king it up for everybody” who wants to transition to a legally operated business.
After numerous complaints, the city HAS cracked down on some of the weed trucks that were concentrated around Times Square, using not marijuana laws, but parking laws. In June, the city’s sheriff’s department impounded several “Weed World” trucks for what it said was more than $500,000 in unpaid parking tickets.
In June, Mayor Eric Adams was quoted in the New York Post as saying “clearly we’re not going to allow illegal sales. These trucks may be falling right below the line, and we just have to continue to monitor, but it is a problem.”
In Brewer’s letter to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, she requests “that the Office of Cannabis Management immediately conduct enforcement measures at this location,” and also points out that she has received complaints about a similar truck that parks on Broadway between West 95th and 96th Street. “I hope you will also conduct an inspection of this vehicle regarding their sales.”
Meanwhile, according to the state OCM, the regulations for establishing licensed recreational dispensaries won’t be announced until later this year. Until then, Cardell Speights admits, “I’m stepping into very muddy waters.”