For all practical purposes adults can now walk into a store and buy recreational pot—just like in California.

What a difference 40 years makes. If Royal Leaf Club had tried holding a grand opening for its recreational cannabis store in 1980 instead of on October 27, its green balloons wouldn’t have been the only things busted. But as one of the store’s managers told me: “The police have been instructed not to make marijuana arrests anymore.”

It’s an interesting time to be in the retail marijuana business. Legally, it’s a gray area.

In 2021 New York State legalized ganja for adult recreational use. But it won’t be until late this year or sometime in 2023 that the equivalent of liquor licenses is expected to be awarded to a limited number of stores. And the first licenses will supposedly go to applicants who were once jailed for selling pot and can prove that they’ve successfully run a business. (Good luck with that.) The rationale is that a disproportionate majority of these felons have been black and Hispanic, so the law was written to try to make up for this racial injustice. Unlike minorities, white “drug dealers” have often gotten off with a fine or a slap on the wrist.

In fact, white businessmen like Pete and Alex, who manage Royal Leaf on bustling Continental Avenue off Queens Boulevard, can’t see any advantage to delay opening their store while waiting for their license. Already, there are two or three other marijuana stores open or about to open in this middle-class Forest Hills neighborhood. And the medical marijuana dispensary, Curaleaf, just around the corner, has been operating for 4 or 5 years and is expected to expand into recreational sales at some point.

Meantime, Pete and Alex are quick to point out the “No One Under 21 May Enter” sign at the front of the store. They insist the rule will be fiercely enforced and that they'll pay all taxes on time.

At the grand opening on October 27th, complimentary pre-rolls (once referred to as loose joints) were being handed out in individual plastic cylinders. There was also plenty of free sushi and Red Bull. On display were a dozen varieties of hairy buds under magnifiers. For sale under glass counters were prepackaged grams of flower to smoke or vape. And for those favoring edibles, there was an abundance of choices including strawberry shortcake gummies, peanut butter cookies and high-potency brownies.

Menus on the wall spell out the pricing for flowers and edibles.

Curiously, another pot retailer called Hills Shoppe that opened weeks earlier and is located a few blocks away on Austin Street, is next door to a hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie shop. How convenient to offer just-baked goods to the just-baked! The security guard at the pot shop laughed when this was pointed out.

While Hills takes credit cards, Royal Leaf only takes cash—for now. Cash-only checkout could be a deal breaker for consumers who use their phones for everything—despite the enticement of the day’s specials.

Pot shops, both licensed and still-to-be licensed, are growing like weeds—for now.

Another store on Austin Street will compete with ones already open in the neighborhood. A sign proclaims: "Now Hiring." (Photos by M. Antonoff)

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