Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (2024)

The small number of legal cannabis dispensaries opening in Hell’s Kitchen are still facing competition from hordes of illicit stores — including some that are rebranding and reopening after being padlocked and closed down by law enforcement.

Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (1)

Some stores that are not licensed cannabis dispensaries are saying they have NY State licenses to sell hemp products, while others are removing more obvious weed-related signage and rebranding as “convenience stores.”

Two weeks ago cannabis dispensary Nicklz (797 8th Ave bw W49th/49th St) became the second licensed cannabis dispensary to open in Hell’s Kitchen, following Indoor Treez (584 8th Ave bw W39th/38th St) in April.Cannadreams, at 862 9th Ave and W56th St, will be a close third when it opens later this summer.

Times Square Alliance President Tom Harris is celebrating Nicklz’s opening as the next step in ushering in a new era of legal shops in the neighborhood.

Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (2)

A spokesperson for Nicklz told us the dispensary’s goal is to “provide a safe, educational place where people can purchase their cannabis products.”

“Our goal is to build trust within the community,” the spokesperson said. “The only way to do that is by being honest, and by educating — and when people leave here, we want them to feel like they know more than when they walked in.” The store takes its name from the nickel bags that were used to distribute cannabis during its prohibition.

“The surest way to get rid of the illegal market is to have a legal market where there’s quality control and you know what you’re buying,” Harris told W42ST. “We have never been against the cannabis industry, we have been against illegal weed stores that market to children and seem to be a magnet for crime.”

Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (3)

One such allegedly unlicensed store, which does not appear to have a name on its window, is directly across the street from Nicklz at 790 8th Avenue. After being raided by the NYPD and padlocked on May 18, the weed-themed boutique, featuring large glass windows and plants draping from the ceilings, has since reopened.

When W42ST visited the shop at the corner of 8th Avenue and W48th Streeton Monday, we were told by a store employee that they sell CBD products in addition to “THC edibles.” When asked why they had previously been shut down, the employee stated that they have a license to sell cannabis and are now following regulations (this is not confirmed by the official map of NY State Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses).

Despite NYC Mayor Adams’ project “padlock to protect,” which launched in May, some stores such as this one appear to be back in business.Harris, whose team conducts weekly surveys of unlicensed cannabis shops within the BID’s area (generally speaking 7th and 8th Avenues, from W40th Street to W53rd Street), said he reported the boutique’s reopening to the NYC Sheriff’s Office.

Harris’s team has purchased cannabis from multiple unlicensed shops and upon chemically testing their contents, they have found that some, such as at 790 8th Avenue have significantly higher concentrations of THC than advertised, and may contain other contaminants such as pesticides. He has shared the results with the sheriff’s office and the owners of the buildings the shops are located in. That has led some of the landlords to bring eviction proceedings against the shops, he said.

“Most of [the landlords] were duped,” Harris said. “They signed a lease for a ‘convenience store’ and it became an illegal weed store. A lot of them have on their own instituted eviction proceedings, but that takes some time.”

Multiple shops advertising cannabis and CBD products have in recent weeks rebranded themselves as “convenience stores,” such as the former Herbal House (9th Ave bw W55/56th St), The Forbidden Cannabis (9th Ave bw W45/46th St) and Indoor Sativa (9th Ave bw W44th/45th St).

It is in some cases difficult to discern by the naked eye whether a shop is licensed or unlicensed, Harris said. That is because some have obtained Cannabinoid Hemp retail licenses, which allow them to sell products with THC concentrations that are “less than or equivalent to 0.3 percent.” These licenses, in comparison to an adult-use cannabis license, are relatively easy to obtain and cost $300 for a year.

Unlike adult-use dispensary licenses, which are mapped on a public database, hemp retail licenses are presented on a document that does not include their addresses.

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Two employees at the store formerly branded as Herbal House on 9th Avenue (bw W55/56th St) told us on Monday afternoon that their store only sells CBD products and is licensed to do so. In an answer to a lawsuit alleging the illegal sale of cannabis products, a lawyer for Ninth Avenue Organic Deli & Convenience Corp, which does business as Herbal House, alleged in court documents that the location is licensed to sell “Cannabinoid hemp or CBD with the State of New York.”

If a store holds a hemp license, Harris said, “they’re allowed to sell certain things, not allowed to sell others, and you almost need a chemist to do an analysis to see if what they’re selling is illegal.”

In the four years since cannabis was legalized in New York State, Midtown and Hell’s Kitchen have seen a flurry of changes, from trucks selling unlicensed cannabis products, and even at one time a weed limousine, to the arrival of smoke shops.

It remains murky whether some stores, such as 790 8th Avenue, are actually licensed to sell CBD products, or if they are operating illicitly.

However Nicklz, on the other side of the street, is licensed and open for business. A large sticker in the window that reads “New York State Licensed Cannabis Dispensary” and a security guard that checks the ID of every entering client are two telltale signs. All products, viewed from the store’s website and in-store kiosks, clearly display the concentration of cannabis they contain, along with a description of the effect they will have on their consumer: some will make you “happy,” or “relaxed,” relieve anxiety, or help to regulate sleep.

“Our budtenders, who are knowledgeable about cannabis, greet you with open arms, and ask questions to find out exactly what it is that you’re looking for,” said Nicklz’s spokesperson. “Even if you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for, the questions will help us point you in the right direction.”

Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (13)

The spokesperson added, “We’re just happy to be in this location, be part of this community, and we want to offer a safe, educational space for people to purchase their cannabis products. We want to continue to help reverse the stigma of what cannabis has been made out to be.”

As to the potentially illicit stores nearby, the spokesperson said, “It’s not my place to judge anybody and what they’re doing. I’m more so focused on Nicklz providing a positive experience to the people who walk through the doors. I can’t control what goes on outside of here, so I don’t even think about it.”

Another Legal Cannabis Dispensary Opens as Unlicensed Shops Rebrand as "Convenience" Stores (2024)

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