ITHACA, N.Y.—Since former Governor Andrew Cuomo legalized retail cannabis, New York State has spent the past 16 months making gradual, deliberate process on distributing licenses to sellers, which are now expected to be released in early 2023. In the meantime, certain sellers have seized the moment and opened their businesses anyway, much to the state’s chagrin. 

This has led to some noise from the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, but the response has been inconsistent since sticker stores were first making headlines at the beginning of the year. Last week, thanks in part to some prodding by Gothamist, the Office of Cannabis Management released the full slate of cease and desist letters that it had sent to businesses around New York State. The 66 letters include two in Tompkins County: Good Vibes Customs and LakeWatch Inn. But interestingly, both businesses say they haven’t heard anything from OCM, letter or otherwise, and the latter says they’ve never sold cannabis at all. 

While they are both listed as having received a letter, and owners of both said they never received one, the two businesses find themselves in fairly different situations. Good Vibes Customs (sometimes known as Good Vibes Exotics) is, indeed, a sticker store, and maintains their belief that what they are doing is legal — “gifting” cannabis products to customers who “buy stickers,” essentially an attempted end-run around the current law. Store owner Iman McKay, who is also named as the owner of a Good Vibes Customs location in Elmira, acknowledged that they paused business around the time the City of Ithaca put out an announcement stating that sticker stores are illegal, but has continued since and still has never heard from OCM in any capacity. 

Iman McKay’s fallback option is a house painting business called Bianco’s Custom Painting.

Just in case, McKay says laughing, he has started a house painting business, Bianco’s Custom Painting, as a fallback option if things take a turn. An example of his work can be found at the corner of Green Street and North Meadow Street. 

Still, considering OCM’s public comments, it isn’t very surprising to see Good Vibes Customs in the state’s crosshairs. LakeWatch Inn, an events venue on East Shore Drive in Ithaca, is the more surprising inclusion, and owner Nicole Reynolds claims that’s because the business is, basically, being impersonated. Her business has never, before or currently, sold cannabis products, she said, and doing so could risk her liquor license — an essential part of an events venue. 

“Absolutely never,” she wrote, when contacted. “I have never sold an illegal product, cannabis or otherwise. No parties for L.J.M. Hospitalities/The LakeWatch Inn has sold cannabis. […] [My reaction] is hard to put into words because I was shocked, hurt, concerned, and the idea that we are misunderstood or misrepresented stings.”

Reynolds said she first discovered that LakeWatch had been publicly named by OCM when contacted by a reporter from Syracuse.com. Unfortunately, that was after the Ithaca Journal had already printed a story stating that LakeWatch had received the cease and desist letter from OCM. She still has never received a cease and desist letter, which OCM claimed to have sent in February 2022, though it was sent to the street address of LakeWatch, not to the P.O. box listed on the venue’s website.

The confusion might have started several months ago. Reynolds said she was contacted by organizers of CannaMarket, which hosts cannabis vendors in a market type of atmosphere. Reynolds said she agreed to host the event at LakeWatch because, she said, the organizers claimed that it was informational and educational, not commercial (in that weed would be sold at the event). 

When Reynolds discovered that cannabis would be sold, she consulted with Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne, who advised her the event was probably illegal. She then withdrew her offer to host it, and the event was held elsewhere. Other than that, Reynolds isn’t sure where the potential cannabis connection could have been generated. OCM has not answered a request for comment from The Ithaca Voice

The letter itself that OCM sent is curious. It is addressed to “LakeWatch Inn Catering and Event Planning,” which isn’t the legal name of Reynolds’ business (that’s just LakeWatch Inn). Then there’s a second line stating that the d/b/a name (“doing business as” name) is “The ktChn.” Reynolds had no familiarity with that name, so she did some digging on social media and was able to find a way to contact The ktChn, which she believes is in either Horseheads or Elmira, or at least owned by people from there.

Reynolds said she did make contact with the people running The ktChn late last week, but the conversation quickly turned hostile. Reynolds said she interacted with a couple who acknowledged the confusion with the business name but said they weren’t going to do anything to fix it. The business’ social media footprint appears to have vanished as of Tuesday, July 12. 

She said the way that OCM has bungled this initial enforcement campaign should be discouraging for its current ability to handle the retail cannabis market when it becomes more formalized in the coming months and years. The situation has put Reynolds’ business at risk even as she fervently tries to dispel any incorrect notions on social media or with clients. 

“Currently it’s the social media fallout, gossip, questions relating to my/our commitment to this community, and whether we are practicing illicit and illegal activity that stings,” she said. “The legal ramifications will take time but it’s definitely a large concern for me. Ithaca is a freewheeling community but not all prospective hosts want to align themselves with a business that’s under investigation for anything, much less this. I have fielded calls from concerned hosts.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com