For the first time on the unofficial cannabis holiday 420, cannabis enthusiasts in New York State can purchase their products legally. Union Square Travel Agency, one of the first licensed adult-use dispensaries across the state, was buzzing with business at about 2 p.m.
“It’s fantastic for the industry -- for New York as a whole -- to really be able to promote legal cannabis in New York, so we are very happy,” Union Square Travel Agency CEO Paul Yau told Cheddar News.
April 20 is typically the biggest day of the year for cannabis sales. Last year, sales across several key markets including California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington surged 121 percent in 2021, according to cannabis analytics firm Headset.
Cannabis wholesale platform LeafLink noted an almost 14 percent jump in wholesale cannabis sales in the four weeks leading up to 420, versus the four preceding weeks. Wholesale sales were more than 18 percent higher in the four weeks leading up to 420 in 2023, compared to the same time in 2022.
Yau said sales have been strong at Union Square Travel Agency, too.
“It's like the Black Friday of cannabis. So in the lead up to this week, we've been way up and today, all the way through to 11 p.m., we're expecting it to be a really crazy, busy day,” Yau said.
Strong sales could provide a much-needed boost to cannabis companies, which have struggled under pressure from the macro-economic forces that have rocked the broader economy, as well as from pressures unique to a federally illegal industry like cannabis. Legalization efforts nationwide have mostly stalled under a Republican-controlled Congress. But a number of cannabis-related bills have been introduced recently, tackling everything from disproportionate tax burdens levied on cannabis companies under the 280E tax code to state and local expungement programs for cannabis-related offenses.
In New York state, legal businesses face competition from a wave of unlicensed dispensaries that have popped up all over the city. Union Square Travel Agency is one of only eight legal and licensed cannabis dispensaries across New York, and one of only four in Manhattan more than two years after the state legalized cannabis.
The number of unlicensed dispensaries in New York City vastly outnumber licensed ones -- and prospective customers can’t always tell the difference. These businesses can put customers at risk because they don’t have to adhere to the same health and safety standards for their cannabis as regulated businesses.
Regulators in the state have taken heat for those unlicensed dispensaries and, more broadly, for the slow rollout of adult use sales. New York State pulled in $1.8 million in cannabis revenue for the month of March, according to the New York State Comptroller. Gov. Kathy Hochul had originally projected the industry would generate $56 million in the first year and $1.25 billion over the first six, according to Green Market Report. The state has taken action to crack down on unlicensed dispensaries and remained firm in prioritizing nonprofits and justice-involved entrepreneurs -- or those who personally have a cannabis conviction or have a family member who does.
“We're fully supportive of the city and the state's efforts on enforcement. We think it's great for the industry to allow a legal market to proliferate in the state,” Yau said.