ITHACA, N.Y.—Sticker stores, a perceived loophole in New York State’s cannabis legislation, are catching heat from local and state officials who now denounce them as illegal operations.

The city published a joint statement from Acting Mayor Laura Lewis and City Attorney Ari Lavine outlining its most clear directive to Ithaca’s burgeoning sticker store scene to cease. Essentially, sticker stores operate by gifting cannabis to customers when they “purchase stickers,” though in reality the sticker transaction is just a nominal part of the process used to create the guise that the marijuana is not actually being sold.

While the statement was distributed under Lewis and Lavine’s names, it basically just reiterates the state’s position, which is that sticker stores do not exist in a gray area or as a loophole, but are simply illegal.

“In light of recent NYS guidance, we are issuing this clarification that unlicensed cannabis sales remain illegal in New York. As the NYS Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) recently announced, ‘Recent media reports have described business operators selling a product or service, including club memberships, to consumers and providing cannabis as a ‘gift’ in return. This activity is illegal … these violators must stop their activity immediately, or face the consequences.’”  

As for what those consequences would be, it seems that OCM is more or less threatening to box out business owners who are selling now from participating in the fully legal market in 2023 when retail licenses are expected to be distributed to those who apply and are approved.

There’s at least one sticker store in Ithaca that has declared itself publicly, although those business owners were under the impression that their business was indeed legal. There are very clearly other sticker stores operating around town and elsewhere in Tompkins County, and plenty others around the state.

Ithaca’s long been quite friendly to marijuana, even beyond the fondness its residents hold for the drug — largely, the Ithaca Police Department and the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office were unconcerned with marijuana usage locally, even before then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalized cannabis in March 2021.

The Ithaca Voice is awaiting clarification from Lavine and Lewis regarding whether or not they would be directing the Ithaca Police Department to shut down known sticker stores in the city, or if they would leave that responsibility to New York State Police. Their statement did say that IPD would “report unlicensed cannabis sales in the city to OCM.”

“The unlicensed sale of cannabis remains illegal in New York State and the state will work with its partners in government to enforce the law,” said Freeman Klopott, OCM’s spokesperson, in reaction to The Ithaca Voice‘s initial story on sticker stores in Ithaca. “New York State is building a legal, regulated cannabis market that will ensure products are tested and safe for consumers. We encourage New Yorkers to not partake in illicit sales where products may not be safe, and those attempting to sell illegally must stop immediately. We will continue to advance efforts that ensure New Yorkers have a pathway to sell legally in the new industry as we work to deliver economic justice, however any operator participating in the unlicensed, illegal sale — or so-called ‘gifting’ — of cannabis products is significantly jeopardizing their ability to receive a license to participate in the forthcoming legal market.”

Matt Butler

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