420 is not a number heard over the police radio anymore in New York City. Rather, one may get a contact high just hanging out in Times Square. And if a free high is not good enough, there are dozens of shops in the vicinity; citywide, it is estimated that there are over 1,500 ‘herb joints’ operating.
Estimating is all that the city can do, as the permits have only just been issued, with Housing Works opening up several weeks ago as the first fully legal establishment.
Now that Housing Works is collecting taxes, and surtaxes, in the name of the Mayor and Governor, and others will follow suit soon, the number of cannabis shops without a permit may be easier to calculate. The crackdown has begun, and now that the city sheriff, Anthony Miranda, has been roped in to push out the undocumented vendors, new ways of selling have begun. In my area of Upper Manhattan we see signboards on the sidewalk with the products and prices advertising to the passers-by, with a car parked not far away, one door ajar, one leg stuck out, the other on the pedal ready to fly. They call it ply on the sly.
The prospect of a ticket for selling cannabis without a permit – which entails a fine of $250 – is one reason to roll, but the other is that criminals see dealers as cash cows. In less time that it takes to withdraw cash from an ATM, a gun toting thug can milk a shop for thousands of dollars – and walk away with some merchandise. Which may then end up being hawked from the back of a Cadillac.
In Harlem, a robbery went bad when two thugs shot, and killed, a man at Level Up Exotics on 125th Street. The killers are at large. The victim is cold in earth. Passers-by paid scant attention to him bleeding on the sidewalk. They walked by as if he were a piece of trash. He had managed to run across the street, where he cried out for help, before he bled out on 5th Avenue. One more story for the New York Post.
“Police sources said the gunmen disabled surveillance cameras inside the store before they fled — and believe one of the culprits may have worked at the shop.
The fatal shooting was one of four reported on a violent Saturday night in the five boroughs — and just the latest outside Big Apple smoke shops in recent months.
“It has gotten crazy,” said Rami Shala, manager of the nearby Amazon store. “The marijuana store, they are new. They opened one or two months ago, maybe” the tabloid reported.
Which paper[ has a plethora of such tales, and Gothamites are so sick of the situation that a recent post on a site reads as follows:
“I HATE SMOKE SHOPS! They take over all the Deli’s and ma & pa stores. They should be charged a humongous tax, and frankly I wouldn’t care if they were all shot up.”
The situation is not unique to New York – Los Angeles has similar issues, many shops on the West Coast now hire security guards.
But this is not indicative of the entire industry. A parallel might be drawn to the alcohol industry – liquor shops also a big target of stick-ups nationwide; a large percentage of such enterprises stock their wares behind protective glass. Higher end shops operate without such an apparatus, but with a certain level of security ranging from CCTVs to security guards. For the higher end, there is less temptation for thieves as most of their purchases are made on a card.
Which is not an option for the cannabis shops just yet. The SAFE Banking Act, which has the support of Bronx congressman Ritchie Torres, who sits on the House Banking Committee, would solve that.
Other means of improving the situation exist as well. Overall, what I see happening is that there are those in the cannabis world who genuinely have a desire to do the right thing by all parties – Jack Herer is a prime example – and those who just want to rush in and make a quick buck.
Previous articles in the Texas Hemp Reporter have mentioned individuals in New York who want to create a better business environment – Dion Powell (Democrat Party County Committee Member in the Bronx) and Dr. Phil (who has legally obtained a permit). These two and others wish to see cannabis shops set up on a par with the better pubs and cigar shops where patrons socialize with leather chairs and vintage decor. So far, we are seeing fly-by-night establishments surrounded by a cordon of yellow police tape.
The cannabis world needs to define itself – or it will be defined by the lowest elements in society – and we will continue to witness fly-by-night establishments, made easy to find by the cordon of yellow police tape.
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Hey Thanks for the kind words . . I'll try to make that correction