Get serious about fixing legal cannabis woes

Get serious about fixing legal cannabis woes

With the settling of two lawsuits, one of which had led to an injunction that stopped the opening of hundreds of legal cannabis shops that were already on track, the state’s regulated market can hopefully turn the page. It’ll be helped along by the renewed efforts by Mayor Adams and Sheriff Anthony Miranda to hold landlords liable for their tenants’ sale of illegal cannabis.

Still, don’t expect things to be smooth sailing from now on. The teetering market doesn’t just have to be encouraged, it has to be righted after its early implementation went off the rails at pretty much every level.

Like much else in public policy, prior failure only compounds, and even if the state suddenly eliminates all obstacles — licenses are issued quickly and painlessly, administrators help budding entrepreneurs find space and financing fast and no further legal action derails progress, among other things — it is already starting from significantly behind.

The loans that small business owners have already taken out are incredibly restrictive and can saddle them with significant recurring costs, particularly given how slow the actual rollout has been. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine any enforcement that could significantly cut down on what are estimated to be thousands of illegal shops across the city.

If the idea of the city targeting the landlords gives you some déjà vu, it’s because that’s been the plan for some time. In February, almost a year ago, Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent letters to more than 400 smoke shops that were thought to be illegally selling weed, warning that they could be subject to eviction proceedings.

Albany then passed a law in August to hit landlords with fines for allowing unlicensed cannabis sellers to operate out of their buildings. So far, it doesn’t seem like the efforts have yielded much of anything at all. There have been scattered stories of stores closing up shop, a chunk of which end with them reopening sometimes days later.

Our best bet might even be to just wait out the inevitable collapse of a good portion from market oversaturation and then focus enforcement on the ones that remain. Still, who knows how many of the legal shops will even remain standing at that point, faced as they are with an onslaught of competition from rivals that don’t need to bother with taxes or safety compliance or any other of a number of costly regulations that are supposed to both generate revenue for the public and keep consumers safe.

If we seem fatalistic, it’s not because we don’t believe in the homegrown cannabis industry or are ambivalent about the legalization of the drug for recreational use. On the contrary, this page has long agitated for that, understanding that it represented an opportunity to jettison a failed approach, generate revenue, create jobs across farming and retail, keep funds in communities that were impacted by the era of criminalization and generally be a boon for the state.

It’s exactly for this reason that we’re disheartened by the bungling of legislators, who didn’t think to lay out enforcement initially, and administrators, who messed up the prioritization scheme and have slow-walked everything, mostly while facing no consequences. It’s time to fix what you broke.

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