Unlicensed hashish dispensaries rising like weeds in Manhattan

Reefer madness is running rampant in Manhattan.

Crafty budtenders are using a loophole in the state’s law to peddle pot at unlicensed dispensaries that are now peppering neighborhoods, including the Lower East Side.

While cannabis is legal in New York State, licensed dispensaries have yet to open. That means that while possession of under three ounces of weed is kosher, nobody is an approved legal vendor.

That hasn’t stopped Lonny Bramzon from skirting the law — by selling digital content like videos or a mixtape and doling out a gift of marijuana on the side.

“Being nervous is for the weak,” said Bramzon of running his unlicensed weed dispensary Street Lawyer Services on Stanton Street.

“Everyone is happy and loves the digital content. We are a cannabis content lounge and also a place of community. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Empire Cannabis Club, which has unlicensed stores in Chelsea and the Lower East Side, also sells weed — through a membership service.

“We have taken the blessings of the New York State Legislature allowing the transfer, without profit, of cannabis, and have set up a membership service in which the club will acquire cannabis products for its members, and only add the cost to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of said products,” Empire’s site explains.

Street Lawyer Services, an unlicensed marijuana dispensary in the Lower East Side.New York Post

Street Lawyer Services owner Lonny Bramzon called the business a “cannabis content lounge.”New York Post

Industry leaders told The Post that while the dispensaries are getting away with their gifting scheme now, it might not last forever. Worse, they could be violating federal law.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and crossing state lines with a bag could result in criminal prosecution. Most of the weed being sold in these stores also isn’t grown in New York, experts said.

When dispensaries open in New York with full state approval, they will only be allowed to sell weed grown within state borders, but that infrastructure doesn’t exist yet. Once New York state is ready to get legal weed stores up and running, those who tried to get ahead of the government likely won’t be able to continue operating, according to experts.

“These stores are jeopardizing their chance at getting a license at the end of this year,” said Joe Rossi, a managing director of the lobbying firm Park Strategies who runs the group’s cannabis division. “We say this is the difference between short-term greed and long-term greed.”

Bramzon sells digital content to customers and gives out marijuana as a Bramzon sells digital content to customers and gives out marijuana as a “gift.”New York Post

Rossi said he isn’t sure “the juice is worth the squeeze.”

“Our advice to anyone is don’t get on the wrong side of the Office of Cannabis Management,” he added.

Office of Cannabis Management spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman told The Post plainly that these dispensaries “are illegal as there are no licensed adult-use cannabis sales at this time in the State of New York and we will work with our partners to enforce the law.”

His office has already sent out more than 50 cease-and-desist letters, which shops warn that “any unlicensed sale of cannabis is illegal” and that “failure to cease this activity puts your ability to obtain a license in the legal cannabis market at substantial risk.”

Bongs inside of Street Lawyer Services in Manhattan.Bongs inside of Street Lawyer Services in Manhattan.New York Post

“New York State is building a legal, regulated cannabis market that will ensure products are tested and safe for consumers while providing opportunities for those from communities most impacted by the over-criminalization of cannabis prohibition — illegal operations undermine our ability to do that,” he said.

Ghitelman also said the product being sold might not be safe, a message echoed by Gregory Tannor, a real-estate broker in the cannabis space.

“We call them trap houses,” Tannor said. “You don’t know what you’re getting at the end of the day” and most of the product is sold in loose bags and not sealed, he added.

Tannor is hoping to see unlicensed dispensaries close, and he and his colleagues are eager for weed to start being sold legally in the state.

Many employees and owners at unlicensed dispensaries declined to speak to The Post about their operations.

Bramzon said his company is doing Bramzon said his company is doing “whatever we can to comply with the law.” New York Post

Hemp on Wheels, a mobile dispensary run out of a black truck adorned with giant green cannabis leaves, said it didn’t realize it was violating any laws.

“Oh no, [I] hope we’re OK. We have a temporary license. I didn’t know about this,” said a manager, who did not want to provide his name.

Empire Cannabis Clubs and its attorney declined to comment.

Bramzon, meanwhile, said Street Lawyer Services does “whatever we can to comply with the law.”

“We operate with a business license, we pay taxes, we have security,” he said.

“I’m not about thumbing my nose to authority or being a rebel… it’s about spreading love.”