Good Question: Why are there cannabis shops in Rochester if it’s illegal to sell?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — What are the consequences of selling cannabis without a license in the Rochester area?

Businesses are legally allowed to sell CBD and hemp products, which are derived from the marijuana plant. However, they’re still not allowed to sell cannabis, the part of the plant that gets you high, without a license from New York State.

One of you wanted to know, what’s being done about local places that are still selling it regardless. A viewer wrote to us saying that he’s spotted shops in his town selling cannabis and asked “if it’s not legal here why are they allowed to operate so openly and notoriously?”

Since March 2021, marijuana has been legal to use in New York State but illegal to sell without a license. If a shop in the Rochester area is selling it – if the shop is not affiliated with the state’s medical cannabis program and it doesn’t have a license – it is illegal. The product likely isn’t going through the proper testing for safety.

Earlier this month, upstate New York’s first legal cannabis dispensary opened in Binghamton and many of you have said you’re interested in opening similar businesses here locally.

So what is the state’s Office of Cannabis Management doing to stop illegal cannabis sales at businesses? In July of 2022, the office sent cease and desist letters to dozens of businesses suspected of distributing cannabis in New York State.

Many of those businesses are still in operation. News10NBC reached out to the Office of Cannabis Management for a comment on this recent complaint of businesses selling it illegally. Here’s a statement from the office:

“There cannot be a legal, regulated market operating side-by-side with an illegal market – it undercuts the goals of the state’s Cannabis Law to protect public health and build an equitable market that works to undo the harms caused by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition. From Buffalo to New York City, OCM and law enforcement agencies have worked together to try and stop illegal activity throughout the State. These efforts have included the seizure of products, the issuance of cease and desist letters, and removal of trucks used for the illicit sale of cannabis and we will continue to enforce the law to end their operations.”

A federal lawsuit is preventing New York State from issuing licenses to businesses interested in legally selling cannabis in the Finger Lakes Region. The lawsuit claims that New York is discriminating against out-of-state businesses by prioritizing dispensary licenses for people who have marijuana convictions within New York. 

If you have a good question, send it to us at

More about local people seeking to open dispensaries:

See our series “Cannabis Countdown” about what NYS can expect as dispensaries open: