Unlicensed Cannabis Clubs in Manhattan, New York – NBC New York
If you ask New York’s top cannabis regulator, any storefront accepting pot payment will take the leap. Albany is still working out the details of the state’s adult recreational cannabis industry, and most licenses have yet to be issued.
Despite this, dozens of businesses already operate storefronts that offer cannabis to customers in exchange for cash payments.
“This activity is illegal,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). “The law is very clear that in order to sell cannabis in New York State, you must have a license provided by this office.”
But Empire Cannabis Club co-founders Julio Brinez and Lenore Elfand say their storefront doesn’t technically sell cannabis, so they don’t need a license under New York’s decriminalization law. Walk into one of Empire’s two locations in Manhattan and you’ll immediately be prompted to purchase a club membership. This membership, they say, gives customers the right to shared purchase of cannabis flower.
“You can pay me if I don’t make a profit, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here,” Elfand said.
“I have the right to live off cannabis,” Brinez said. “I have the right to thrive in this industry.”
Empire Cannabis Club attorney Steve Zissou says the business structure is perfectly permissible under New York’s new law because the very definition of a “sale” has changed.
“This entity exists for one purpose. For the benefit of club members. To provide them with a safe, tested and reliable product,” said Zissou. “The more the number of members of the club increases, the more the cost for everyone decreases.”
Although the CMO recently sent cease and desist letters to Empire Cannabis Club and several other storefronts offering marijuana to the public, many companies show no signs of backing down.
Brinez and Elfand say their families have been scarred by the war on drugs. Brinez says he spent three years in prison for growing cannabis plants. Elfand says his father and two brothers spent between two and ten years behind bars. They say the experience — being punished for conduct that is now legal — puts them on high moral ground compared to state regulators.
“My brothers and Julio made time for it. And when the government understood that it could make money from it, now it’s okay?”
Alexander said the state’s licensing process prioritizes small businesses and applicants who have been wronged by past cannabis convictions, but there’s no excuse for taking the leap. with unlicensed transactions.
“We have extensive planned and scheduled steps to take and remove these businesses from operation,” Alexander said.
Meanwhile, Senator Diane Savino (D – Staten Island) introduced a bill that would clarify, structuring a cannabis business as a club does not make it legal.
“Some attorneys, district attorneys, have said they think there is a gray area in the law on this, so we want to introduce legislation to strengthen the law. To erase this gray area. To make it clear that this activity is absolutely outlawed,” Savino said. His bill would also bar individuals from applying for future licenses if they defy state orders to shut down an unlicensed cannabis operation.
Elfand said the legislation looks like a rollback of New York’s cannabis law.
“They just decriminalized it. And she wants to recriminalize him.