New York State’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has released new guidance on how recreational marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to operate, as the city counts down to the expected first openings.  Although the guidelines have yet to be finalized, they offer an insight into what to expect from the shops that obtain one of the 22 available Manhattan operating licenses.

9th Avenue Smoke Shops
Smoke shops are now a common Hell’s Kitchen sight but the legal cannabis dispensaries will operate under much stricter rules. Photos: Phil O’Brien

Although smoke shops have become a common Hell’s Kitchen sight — we walked 10 blocks of 9th Avenue and counted eight smoke shops back in August (that number has since increased) — the new dispensaries will operate under much stricter regulation and will not be allowed to open past midnight without seeking special approval.

Will they look like smoke shops?

Aiming to curb attempts to appeal to under-21s, to whom sales are illegal, the OCM has instituted restrictions to steer branding away from “kiddie-friendly” imagery. Cartoons and “cartoon-style” fonts are banned, “bright, neon colors” are forbidden and marketing imitation cookies, candy  and cereal  with terms like “candy” or “kandy” is off, although specific items with compliant packaging are allowed. And marketing or packaging with characters, phrases, toys or games commonly aimed at children is forbidden, preventing punning names based on childhood favorites. 

But as cannabis media publication Leafly reported in their study of the OCM’s regulations, the ruling leaves quite a bit of grey area, including for brands like Cookies, which currently sells CBD products packaged explicitly in conflict with the OCM’s proposed restrictions. 

Additionally, the OCM proposes rules to ensure that businesses represent themselves accurately, barring attempts to advertise as a medical dispensary: “using the terms ‘drug’, ‘drug store’, ‘medicine’, ‘apothecary’, ‘doctor’, or ‘pharmacy’,” as well as terms like “pharma-” or “medi-” are not allowed. Also off the agenda are “Doing Business As” entity names.

The interior of a New Jersey marijuana dispensary
New York City’s 22 legal marijuana dispensaries will most likely look similar to those across the Hudson in New Jersey, like this branch of Zen Leaf in Elizabeth. Photo: Zen Leaf/Facebook

When will they be open and what will they be like inside?

OCM regulations would prevent shops from being open between 12am-8am unless explicitly authorized. Cannabis dispensaries can set up both curbside pick-up and drive through — a measure present in New Jersey’s shops, although clearly not easy to pull off in Manhattan.

While operating regulations differ, the Tri-State trail-blazers of New Jersey, which launched cannabis retail this spring, have given New Yorkers a reasonable preview for what the dispensaries of the future will bring, at least in terms of branding. At RISE in Bloomfield, New Jersey, covered windows conceal a brightly lit, cheery interior, featuring Apple-store-esque displays of each product. Over at Zen Leaf in Elizabeth, sleek design elements resemble more spa than psychedelic lair, while cannabis cafés like the upcoming Seaweed Infusion are branded in the style of a high-gloss coffee shop. 

Will there be cafes? How about marijuana by Uber?

What they won’t look like: cannabis cafes which have opened in some cities in California, including West Hollywood. The West Coast state’s laws allow cities to issue licenses for “lounges” where recreational marijuana can be smoked and consumed, leading to a mini-boom in WeHo. New York is not allowing cafes under the new licensing laws.

The OCM plans to ban third-party sales and delivery apps as a measure of protection against rogue businesses skirting licensing requirements. Uber, which delivers legal marijuana in parts of Canada, will not be able to start up a similar service in New York. But the regulations will allow people to order by app and pick up at an “express lane” in store, in the same style as chains like Starbucks or Cava.

Another key element to the OCM rulings will be the regulations around product pricing. The newest proposal plans to require clear price labeling, including tax, on all items, and bans loyalty programs, giveaways, and gifting — effectively barring the recent spate of “tacky weed bodegas” doling out a “free gift” with the purchase of an NFT or other non-cannabis product.

The Artist Tree, a West Hollywood cannabis lounge
New York will not allow cannabis cafes like those permitted in California, such as The Artist Tree in West Hollywood. Photo: The Artist Tree/Instagram

Will out-of-state chains move in?

In an effort to protect local business owners from being pushed out by Big Weed, the OCM’s strictest rule for Cannabis Adult Use Retail dispensaries — or CAURDs, as they will be officially known — is the barring of any out of state or multi-state operators, including passive investors and majority owners from companies already operating outside of New York state.

New Jersey has taken a different approach, allowing national chains. But in New York, there has been pressure for legalization to be matched by making the market accessible to communities of color who suffered serious consequences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, leading to the ban on out-of-state companies getting involved. The regulations, however, do not prevent chains popping up in the city or state. In total there will be 70 licenses in the city, with Manhattan’s 22 followed by 19 in Brooklyn, 16 in Queens, 10 in the Bronx and three on Staten Island, and a further 80 across the state, including 20 in Long Island and 17 in mid-Hudson, which includes Westchester.

Weed World trucks Hell's Kitchen
Legal cannabis dispensaries will be a far cry from the infamous weed trucks, currently an inescapable sight in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

And is there some good news for everyone, marijuana user or not?

Yes! The dispensaries that do emerge will be guaranteed to be more visually pleasing than the ever-present Midtown Weed World Trucks

Join the Conversation


  1. I can’t wait to see these official dispensaries change the culture around pot and bring in additional tax revenue for the City while at the same time allowing new businesses to flourish.

  2. There are over 22 of these shops now open in Hell’s Kitchen but yet only 22 in all of Manhattan will get a license? What’s to become of all these others?

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