Illegal Weed Stores in NYC: The Dangers for Kids

Illegal Weed Kids NYC
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Illegal Weed Stores in NYC: The Dangers for Kids

Inside a new convenience store in Dongan Hills, Staten Island, are shelves of Starburst, M&Ms and other standard candy fare. On shelves next to the candy are envelopes of similar sweets and snacks, except these “treats” aren’t what you think. They’re infused with CBD, a chemical found in marijuana.

Jars of colorful Gummy Bears, little envelopes of Trix and Cocoa Puffs cereals and other CBD snacks that would appeal to kids are for sale. We asked the salesman behind the counter if there was any pot in the candies. He explained, “It’s got CBD, THC, a little of everything.”

THC is the main compound in cannabis that gets people high.

While we spoke, several young people browsed the store. Meanwhile, the salesman asked us if we wanted some “flowers,” the smokable part of a cannabis plant.

Customers must be 21 to purchase any candy with CBD, per the products’ cheap-looking, slapped-on labeling. But many of the in-store shoppers looked to be underage and eyeing everything from vaping products to the cereal-themed “snacks.”

Shops like this are located around the city. And cannabis products they sell pose two major health risks to children, according to experts. The first threat is that they are designed to look like candy. Kids are less likely to heed to dosage guidelines on a bottle of “candy” and risk over-consumption.

“This increases the likelihood of a toxic overdose reaction,” Catherine Schneider, a licensed clinical social worker in Bellport Village, NY, explained. 

The second threat is that THC is a mind-altering substance. And many products in these stores—even ones that claim to have little to no THC—can contain the compound. This can interfere with a child’s developing brain. 

“Children’s brains are in the process of changing in density from grey matter to highly connected neural networks that make up a mature brain,” Schneider explained. “A brain can be considered mature at around 25 years old. THC and other mind altering substances introduced to the brain prior to 25 increase the vulnerability of the growing neurons and neurotransmitters.”

Simply put, if an anxious, depressed or traumatized child’s brain is introduced to THC and finds it soothing, the child’s brain will no be able to conquer its own mental health trials without repeated introduction of THC.

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Parent and Civic Groups: Concerns About Illegal Weed Stores in NYC

Since New York State legalized recreational cannabis in March 2021, there’s been a lot of confusion among consumers about what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to marijuana. And some local retailers seem to be capitalizing on that confusion. Many are guising themselves as convenience stores selling candy and Gatorade, when really they’re selling illicit drugs.

With the exception of three licensed cannabis shops in Manhattan, none of these “weed bodegas” that sell pre-rolled joints, CBD candy or THC products are legal. Even though the city is cracking down on illegal cannabis shops  – including most recently several in Staten Island – so many have popped up throughout the city. And people from parent groups and civic organizations are concerned.

“I tell folks, they have to be aware,” Bernard Lopez, a member of the Port Richmond North Shore Alliance, said. “When they go into a bodega or deli, they need to really take a look at what’s being sold. If it’s these gummy candies and similar candy, they need to report it to the authorities.”

Meredith Berkman and Dorian Fuhrman are the co-founders of  Parents Against Vaping eCigarettes (PAVe), an organization founded in 2018 as a response to the youth vaping epidemic. While their team does not have a position on the legalization of marijuana, they’re against stores selling flavored vape and similar products to kids. 

“What we’ve learned is that it’s really the flavors that hook kids,” Fuhrman said. “Flavors prevent kids from perceiving any harm in the product. It makes the nicotine—or whatever you’re vaping—go down easier. So we advocate against the sale of all flavored products. Today in New York, that includes flavored THC, CBD products. And these stores that are supposed to be regulated, it’s like the wild west.” 

Mango and blue raz are among common CBD flavors in illegal weed stores in NYC. Many are sold in fun, eye-catching candy shapes, too.

“We go into these stores and see candy-flavored THC edibles that look like candy, and they’re in these stores that are easily accessible to minors,” Berkman said. “It’s extremely concerning. The earlier kids get their hands on these products, the easier it is to become addicted.”

Jonathan Avery, M.D., vice chair for addiction psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine explained that increased access to weed can lead to more kids trying it and getting addicted. 

“The reality is that most people will use, not get into trouble and can moderate their use,” Avery explained. “But the worry with this increased access is that vulnerable populations will get access and that can lead to trouble. The earlier you start, the more you can start developing an addiction to it.”

If a child has a family history of substance use, mental health issues, trauma, they’re more likely to use and develop cannabis use disorder, which is when a person is unable to stop using the drug even when it’s causing problems in their life. 

As legal weed shops open and a culture change around marijuana increases, many experts feel there’s not enough public information about the adverse effects of the drug. Information about the dangers of CBD and THC seemed to have taken a back seat.

Bridget Cole Williams, M.D., is a board-certified family physician and CEO of Green Harvest Health. She’s also a cannabis educator and life coach. She explained that there’s sometimes a mentality among parents that pot is harmless. They might think, ‘Well I had my first joint at age 12, and I turned out fine,’ Williams explained.

“Sometimes people are not aware of how early exposure to THC can have issues on brain development. We need to have public service announcements because no one wants stupid kids.”

How Parents Can Protect Their Kids

Illegal weed stores in NYC are in many neighborhoods, and it’s likely that more will pop up. Understanding the basic differences between CBD and THC is important, though the lines are often blurred between the two compounds. CBD is one of many compounds in the cannabis plant. THC is another, and it’s pretty much the main one that makes people high. But even CBD products usually contain some level of THC.

According to the city’s official website, “CBD products that have less than .3% THC are legal in the U.S. However, CBD has not been approved for use in foods and beverages by the FDA, so it is unlawful in NYC to sell food or drinks containing CBD.”

Parents shouldn’t despair, though. There are many ways to work with your kids to mitigate potential substance use and addiction. Below are a few key tips parents can use to help protect their kids:

  • Discussions about drugs: the earlier the better: Experts recommend talking with your kids at a young age about the dangers of drugs. Even age 8 or 9 is a great time to start the discussions. 

“We believe that it’s important to educate your children and start talking to your children young about these products. And it’s not a one-time conversation,” Fuhrman said. “Parents have to talk to their kids repeatedly. If you’re walking down the street with your child and you see one of these shops, talk about it. And talk about why they’re so dangerous.” 

  • Talk about social media: Social media, movies and popular music can glamorize drug use, including marijuana. Talk to your kids about what they’re seeing and hearing.
  • Be a reporter: Parents can take some hands-on action, too. PAVe recently launched a pilot program where parents can use an online tool to report shops selling illegal vapes and similar products in their neighborhoods. Dubbed POISON (Parents Opposing Illegal Sales of Nicotine), the program educates parents about these shops and gives them an opportunity to take action. And, the online tool is easy to use.
  • Set a good example: Parents make such an impression on children’s lives. Be a good role model for them. If you’re a mom or dad who drinks, do so in moderation, and don’t use illegal drugs. 

In the meantime, parents will still have to rely on the city to take action.

“Recent efforts by law enforcement agencies and city officials have resulted in the closure of several stores that were found to be selling marijuana products to children,” Kamillah Hanks, NYC council member for Staten Island’s 49th district, said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable for any retailer to engage in the illegal sale of marijuana products to children. Such actions not only violate the law but also put our young people at risk.”

Resources for Parents 

Parents can learn more about illegal weed shops in NYC and teen substance abuse through many resourceful websites including:

Mayoclinic.org
Cdc.gov

Nyc.gov

Parents Against Vaping eCigarettes 

 

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