ITHACA, N.Y.—If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve obtained or partaken in some marijuana in or around Ithaca. That’s okay to admit, it’s legal now.

Even legal to the point that the first brick-and-mortar “sticker store” storefront, Good Vibes Exotics, has now opened on West State/Martin Luther King Jr. Street, located across from the Mobil gas station adjacent to the intersection of State and Meadow streets. Owner Iman McKay and manager Michael Lynch opened the store in late December without much fanfare except for a word-of-mouth marketing campaign.

The store operates in a bit of a gray area newly opened by cannabis’ increasingly accepted status: it’s not legal, yet, to sell weed — but it is legal to give it away as a gift, or at least not explicitly illegal. So patrons simply browse the fairly wide selection of edibles, cannabis flower, specially pre-rolled joints, etc., then proceed to the cash register, where they pay an equivalent amount for some whimsical stickers and are given the cannabis of their choice for free, as a complimentary gift.

Cannabis was formally legalized in New York in Spring 2021 by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. But progress on retail locations has been slower than anticipated, undoubtedly slowed by Cuomo’s rather eventful several months after he signed the legalization law. Cannabis stores in New York are expected to be opening around summer 2023, when licenses will be distributed.

But McKay and Lynch, who met each other through a mutual friend, decided to join the burgeoning sticker store trend, which has seen stores open up in several locations statewide, and is a common workaround in other states that don’t have fully legalized recreational cannabis retail locations yet.

McKay acknowledged that it’s an unfamiliar arrangement, particularly since it’s the first sticker store in Ithaca, but the pair said that considering the state law, and the existence of sticker stores elsewhere, they figured they could proceed without worry.

“It’s all about courtesy, professionalism and respect,” McKay said. The two aren’t nervous about being the first store in town, and McKay said that the location has been fairly busy since their soft launch in December. “We’re not nervous. It’s all legal.”

McKay added that they intend to use some of the proceeds from their business to fund youth sports programs in the area, though the store is too young to have made any donations yet.

Ithaca Police Department Acting Chief John Joly said he was unsure about the legality of the store, noting that possession of more than three ounces of cannabis is still considered a crime and that the regulations and licensing of local retail locations have yet to be published. In his interpretation, it would be illegal, but he did acknowledge that the state had created room for some confusing loopholes.

“The new laws have not been accompanied by clear guidance and therefore have made some of this a grey area,” Joly said.

A second sticker store, not connected to McKay or Lynch, is rumored to have opened elsewhere in Ithaca but the store’s owners did not respond to a request for comment or confirmation.

“We just saw there was nobody here and we took the opportunity, and it’s been great,” Lynch said, admitting they were a tad surprised that more stores hadn’t opened in Ithaca sooner, considering the local population’s reputed affinity for cannabis. The store also sells a small selection of clothing and sneakers in addition to its primary merchandise.

The two have also organized a supplies drive for those impacted by the tragic fire at an apartment complex in the Bronx, in the same neighborhood as where McKay originally hails from. The Jan. 9 fire killed nine people and injured 60.

The flyer for the relief drive that Good Vibes Exotics is running.

So far, Good Vibes has been able to amass quite a bit of clothing and canned food destined for New York City. The effort fits into what the two say their store’s entire ethos is.

“I feel like marijuana is a good thing, and it’s going to be everywhere anyway,” Lynch said. “We’re all about good vibes, that’s it. That’s what we want here.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com