Cannabis facts and fiction

New York State legalized adult use of cannabis on March 31, 2021. 

Nearly three years later, there are less than 50 licensed dispensaries throughout the state. 

Hundreds of illegal smoke shops have popped up seemingly everywhere to meet the demand. 

RELATED: New York trying to address rise in illegal smoke shops

Now local and state officials are considering ways to shut down the illegal vendors and open more licensed dispensaries.

This is the sign you see in the window of a legal, state-licensed dispensary. 

It's a guarantee of safe, quality products and that the money you spend is going to community projects, social equity causes, and state tax coffers.

New York State Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander is well aware of the criticism of a slow rollout and too few dispensaries. 

He defends their work by saying they have built a farm-to-consumer industry from scratch.

RELATED: NYC landlords could face daily $1K fines for housing illegal pot shops

Even with just several dozen dispensaries open, Alexander says they generated $150 million in revenue in 2023. 

He's looking forward to hitting the 50 dispensaries mark and says there are more than 400 new licensees on their way. 

Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management or OCM, said they are really excited for those businesses to open.

"We think we'll have a good chunk of them in the first half of this year, and then the new licenses that we hand out next month and the month following, those should largely be operational by the close of the year," Alexander said. 

The Housing Works Cannabis Company was the first licensed dispensary to open in New York City in late December 2022.

Sasha Nutgent, Director of Retail Operations, says the sales associates, called budtenders, often get to know their regular customers, and that safety and quality control are key. 

They have to file detailed reports to the state on what was sold, They also offer a delivery service. 

"100% of everything you purchase at Housing Works Cannabis Co. goes directly back into the community, and those are people living with or affected by HIV, AIDS and homelessness. They are New Yorkers who are marginalized, people who need housing, job training and re-entry programs," Nutgent said. 

Law enforcement and local leaders estimate the number of illegal smoke shops in New York City at around 2,000 or more. 

Our FOX 5 camera was the only one along in December 2022 as New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda led a joint multi-agency task force including inspectors from the Office of Cannabis Management to shut down illegal shops and confiscate unregulated marijuana products. 

Currently, they have to initiate a court case to get it padlocked. Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing to change the laws and speed them up. 

"I think the biggest thing for us is finding a way to close these shops down quicker," NYS OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said. 

New York Post reporter Aneeta Bohle has been covering the issue and says the need for change is clear. 

"It will be really important going forward for these enforcement rules to actually give the OCM and law enforcement the jurisdiction to actually close these illegal shops down. The problem that we're seeing currently is that they're being shut and then they're opening 2 days later," Bohle said.