Log in

Get your medical card online in minutes!

Get started

Why Are There So Few Recreational Dispensaries in New York?

a man inside the dispensary

In spring 2021, New York recreational cannabis consumers had reason to be optimistic. Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed into law the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or the MRTA, which officially legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

Now, over two years later, things have changed — but only slightly. While weed is now legal, New York City only has four licensed marijuana dispensaries for recreational users. And in the rest of New York state, there are only a few more legal dispensaries.

While it always takes time to open cannabis dispensaries, there does seem to be extra red tape preventing the majority of New Yorkers from accessing cannabis with the same ease as in, say, California. There is no one simple explanation for why there are so few recreational marijuana dispensaries in New York.

But, looking at the broader context helps provide some answers and a roadmap for marijuana’s future in the state.

Get Your Medical Card

Connect with a licensed physician online in minutes.

Why Are There So Few Recreational Dispensaries in New York?

The most straightforward explanation for why there are few recreational dispensaries in New York state is that the licensing process under the Office of Cannabis Management is complicated, and the state’s selection process has faced legal challenges.

In November 2022, for example, a federal judge released an issuance preventing legal dispensaries from opening in some areas of the state, including Brooklyn, the Finger Lakes, and western New York.

The legal challenge was brought by a potential dispensary owner who argued that the state’s selection process was biased against out-of-state applicants. The ban was partially lifted a few months later, allowing for cannabis dispensary licenses to be granted in Brooklyn and some other previously banned sectors of the state.

Still, the injunction being lifted did not solve everything. The Finger Lakes region of the state remains barred from opening more legal dispensaries. Right now, the only neighborhood in NYC where you can easily access a legal dispensary is Manhattan, which contains three of the city’s four dispensaries. The other location is in Queens.

Other potential dispensary owners have been unable to open businesses, not because of being officially blocked from doing so by a federal judge, but because the Office of Cannabis Management has not clarified all of its regulations, and the timeline for further updates remains unclear.

In other words, the current rollout process is a complex and bureaucratic one, in which many answers still need to be discovered.

It should be noted that while legal challenges have questioned whether the state favors resident-owned businesses too heavily, the process does not appear straightforward for anybody. All licenses have been hard to come by.

The first dispensary in New York was finally opened in December 2022, just under two years after recreational marijuana was legalized in the state.

When Will More Recreational Marijuana Dispensaries Open?

While we would love to say that dozens of additional recreational dispensaries are due to pop up all over the state any day now, we cannot be quite so confident. Still, New Yorkers have reason to be optimistic about new dispensary openings, even if, given how the process has gone so far, any optimism should be somewhat tempered.

The good news is that in April 2023, the state’s cannabis control board granted 99 provisional dispensary licenses to prospective dispensary owners. This is great news and brings the total number of granted permits up to 165.

Of course, another less optimistic way to look at this news would be to note that several dozen licenses have already been approved, yet, there are still less than a dozen active dispensaries operating in New York state. Even with these new application approvals, the locations may take some time to be operational.

Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that more dispensaries are on the way, even if they won’t quite be here in a New York minute.

What To Know About Unlicensed Dispensaries

Due to the unpredictable timeline for more recreational dispensaries opening in New York, a gray-at-best market has popped up around the city and beyond.

In dozens of smokeshops, cannabis products are being sold under the counter, alongside CBD and more traditional smoke shop products. With potentially over 1,000 of these stores operating around NYC, these would-be dispensaries are highly difficult to regulate.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has attempted to implement a major crackdown on such stores. Perhaps the easiest way to do so would be to work to expedite the process of opening additional legal stores.

If customers have options they can more easily trust with properly tested cannabis products, the more questionable storefronts are unlikely to operate with as much ease.

The Bottom Line

New York recreational dispensaries have been slow to open due to legal challenges, a lack of clear and timely regulations, and a complex application process.

There is good news, as more recreational licenses have been approved recently.

Still, for right now, the lack of a robust and regulated recreational cannabis industry means many New Yorkers purchase cannabis from unlicensed smokeshops, at least until more legal dispensaries are opened.

New Yorkers who may qualify for a medical marijuana card may also want to consider speaking to Leafwell about receiving certification.

Medical cannabis certification always has its perks, even in states with legalized recreational cannabis. And it could be especially beneficial in a state like New York, which has not yet smoothed out all of the bumps in its recreational industry.

Get Your Medical Card

Connect with a licensed physician online in minutes.

diamond icon

Frequently Asked Questions

Is delta-8 legal in New York?

No, delta-8 is not legal in New York. However, while delta-8 products cannot be produced in New York, you may very well see such products being sold in smoke shops, and it is unclear what penalties, if any, consumers would face for purchasing them.

Should I buy cannabis from a smokeshop?

Buying cannabis from a smokeshop is entirely up to you. Still, cannabis products are always easier to trust when they come from a known and regulated source, like licensed cannabis dispensaries.

Does New York have medical dispensaries?

Yes, New York has medical dispensaries. New York legalized medical cannabis in 2014 and has implemented a much more thorough medical marijuana program throughout the state.

Keep Reading