An unregulated cannabis dispensary is already open for business in New York City, even though the state is still deciding what legal weed sales will look like. Here’s what it’s like inside.

Inside the Empire Cannabis Club on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, the first recreational cannabis dispensary in NYC.
The first recreational use cannabis dispensary in New York City, Empire Cannabis Clubs.

  • In September, a recreational cannabis “club” quietly opened in Manhattan.
  • The store appears to be operating in a legal gray area, as dispensary regulation has yet to be written.
  • New York’s office of cannabis management said, “those attempting to sell illegally must stop immediately.”

On a beautiful fall afternoon in New York City, one of Empire Cannabis Clubs’ owners stood out front on 8th Avenue and told anyone walking by the good news: “Recreational cannabis inside, folks! 18 and up! No medical card required!”

It was a somewhat brazen act for an already brazen business.

Even though recreational cannabis use was legalized on March 31 in New York State, there’s no fully legal way to purchase cannabis.

That isn’t stopping Empire Cannabis Clubs, which opened its doors in September as an unregulated recreational cannabis shop operating in the Big Apple.

Empire is “a full recreational shop with 30 different delta-9 THC strains of flower, distillate cartridges, and delta-9 THC edibles,” co-owner Jonathan Elfand told Insider.

A recent visit to the shop confirmed exactly that:

A photo of cannabis strains for sale at Empire Cannabis Clubs, in the shadow of a living cannabis plant.
Some of the many cannabis strains available at the Empire Cannabis Clubs storefront on 8th Avenue in Manhattan.

When I first entered the store, a host checked me in near the front door and scanned my driver’s license.

After that, I was ushered past the checkout area into a brief tour of the space.

A display case full of various edibles was first up, with everything from cannabis chocolate bars to THC-infused corn chips available for purchase in a variety of prices. A display case on the opposite wall showcased various vaping options: disposable half-gram cartridges and full-gram refill cartridges with varying prices and packaging.

Finally, we reached the big star of the show: two long display cases filled with little cubes containing a few buds each of what’s known in the dispensary world as “flower,” or more commonly called “weed.”

Cannabis buds in a magnification cube at Empire Cannabis Clubs on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.

The gentleman behind the counter was happy to talk through various strains, and even offered to open the containers so I could get a closer sniff.

A card accompanying each strain offered even more details, from how the cannabis was grown to what type of high to expect. I was able to talk through several strains with the employee and ask about pricing.

Customers could get quarter ounces of strains like Gorilla Glue and London Russian Cream for just shy of $100, with a $15 “membership fee” for the day (a $25 monthly pass is also offered).

Technically, Empire Cannabis Clubs says, customers are not buying any cannabis – they’re paying for the “acquisition and transfer” of the cannabis they’re being given as part of the membership. That’s how the company describes the transaction on its website, apparently as an attempt to get around the ban on sales of cannabis by unlicensed sellers.

A strain of cannabis named Gorilla Glue purchased at Empire Cannabis Clubs, the first recreational dispensary in Manhattan.
Packaging labels found at Empire Clubs indicates they are from California. The products weren’t necessarily from California, but there’s no regulated form of packaging yet for recreational cannabis sales in New York State.

Everything about the experience of visiting Empire Cannabis Clubs felt like going to any other legal dispensary – despite the fact that it appears to be operating in a kind of legal gray area.

Rather than calling itself a retail store, Empire Cannabis Clubs operates a “membership service in which the club will acquire cannabis products for its members,” according to the dispensary’s website. When you buy cannabis or various cannabis-based products, you’re paying for “the cost to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of said products,” the website says.

The company apparently sees this as a legal loophole in New York’s current limbo between legalization – which was signed into law in March – and the beginning of legal sales, which aren’t expected until late 2022 at the earliest, and more likely in early 2023.

It’s unclear whether that loophole argument would hold up in court, according to Benjamin Goldburd, a lawyer at the New York City firm Goldburd McCone LLP.

“In a situation like this, it’s decriminalized at the patron level,” Goldburd told Insider, meaning customers purchasing small quantities of what a dispensary is selling are unlikely to face criminal charges. “But at the business level? Especially due to the fact that this is now a moneymaking product for New York? I can’t imagine that they’re not going to try and enforce that that licensing is a requirement.”

In plain terms: Because Empire Cannabis Clubs hasn’t gone through the licensing process (which isn’t set up yet), and it’s not being formally taxed for the products it sells (which also hasn’t been set up yet), New York State could have a reason to pursue legal action.

And even though Empire Cannabis Clubs says customers are paying for membership, rather than paying for cannabis, that may not be a strong enough argument to hold up in court, Goldburd said.

Cannabis Capitol Hill
Few if any Capitol Hill offices require drug testing or ask staffers about their previous cannabis use. If anything, cannabis use on Capitol Hill appears to have gotten more pervasive as an increasing number of states legalize its use and as attitudes change.

Since the state has yet to issue licenses for recreational dispensaries, or to set up how taxation will work, or any other number of policies regarding the newly created adult-use cannabis market, it’s not clear if so-called “clubs” like Empire will face legal action from the city or the state.

One thing is clear: New York State’s Office of Cannabis Management believes any unlicensed sale of cannabis is illegal.

“The unlicensed sale of cannabis remains illegal in New York State and the state will work with its local partners to enforce the law,” a statement from the Office of Cannabis Management communications director Freeman Klopott provided to Insider said. “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 work to ensure that New Yorkers have a pathway to sell legally in the new industry as we work to deliver economic justice.”

Empire, meanwhile, has plans to expand to at least two more Manhattan locations in the near future.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Getting a COVID-19 test in NYC was easy and took no time at all – proof that when they’re properly funded, government services run more efficiently than their privately-run counterparts.

A cracked United States country shape with one-hundred dollar bill bandaids covering some cracks. The background is navy blue.
Massive government funding kept America from falling apart during the pandemic.

  • The US instituted unprecedented welfare programs during the pandemic.
  • People have suddenly realized what the government is capable of doing for them.
  • We must fight to keep and expand these programs in the future.
  • P.E. Moskowitz is an author, runs Mental Hellth, a newsletter about capitalism and psychology, and is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

A few weeks ago, I went to a New York City-run COVID-19 testing site. I had booked my appointment online the day before. The appointment itself took five minutes. My PCR test results, which take two days or more to come back nearly everywhere else, were ready in two hours.

It was a similar experience to get my vaccine. In a converted high school gym in Brooklyn, I was efficiently shuffled through registration, the shot, and the waiting period to make sure I didn’t have any adverse reactions. The high school saw thousands of people a day. At the peak of the vaccination drive, New York City was vaccinating over 100,000 people a day. And at the peak of the United States’ vaccination campaign, the country got 3.38 million doses into people’s arms in one day.

What was remarkable about this unprecedented vaccination drive, and my testing experience in New York, was how unremarkable they felt. Given our government’s usual propensity to make everything from getting a driver’s license to signing up for healthcare as hard as possible, the smoothness of many of the government services that popped up during the pandemic were near-miraculous, More importantly, they were proof that when they’re properly funded, government services run more efficiently than their privately-run counterparts. Imagine if everything could be this easy.

During the pandemic, a popular far-right talking point has been that COVID is a front for a socialist agenda – an opportunity for the government to institute more programs, more central control over the economy, and more regulation. And in a way, these conspiracies have a kernel of truth at the center: The pandemic has forced Americans to really consider the most efficient and effective ways to keep people safe and healthy, and it turns out the way to do that is through massive government involvement and investment.

Money works

Unfortunately the amount of investment in public health was not nearly enough to hold back the pandemic – the US response to COVID was uneven and inadequate. Instead of paying people to stay home, using targeted lockdowns to prevent the spread, and providing an alternative to our privatized, patchwork healthcare system, the US let states and corporations handle most of the pandemic, with disastrous result – the US has one of the highest levels of deaths per 100,000 people of any country in the world.

But the overwhelmingly negative response to COVID in this country overshadowed programs that really did work to keep people healthy and economically stable. New York City, for example, passed a $99 billion budget – its highest ever – to help with its COVID response. That’s why I was able to get tested quickly and easily. That’s part of the reason New York’s death rate from COVID-19 has remained largely flat since the start of the pandemic while other states have surged over and over again. In other states with less-well-funded public programs, simply getting a test can be an arduous process that takes days.

And even at the federal level, the US instituted unprecedented public programs: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented a first-of-its-kind federal eviction moratorium, which was unfortunately overturned by the Supreme Court, but still kept countless people housed during the pandemic. The government is still distributing tens of billions of dollars of rental assistance. In an extremely rare show of bipartisanship, the US government passed the CARES Act at the beginning of the pandemic, which provided thousands of dollars in direct relief to Americans, allowed tens of millions of workers to claim unemployment benefits, and propped up local governments and economies.

Every American got direct payments of a few thousand dollars that were responsible for a dramatic decrease in poverty and food insecurity, and a dramatic increase in the mental wellbeing of Americans. Families struggling to pay for basic household expenses dropped from 23% to 13% after two rounds of pandemic stimulus checks, according to one survey. Of course, poverty, food insecurity, and the mental health issues stemming from these issues existed long before the pandemic, so there’s no reason that addressing these issues directly with money should stop now.

The government’s vast spending also likely stopped us from going into a deeper or more drawn out recession.

But then, politicians came to their senses: They realized these programs – not surprisingly – were popular, and even worse, they were teaching Americans to expect their government to actually work for them. This was a problem, because it deviated from the usual playbook used by our austerity-minded government: Run things on a shoestring budget (or defund them), and then claim that the government doesn’t work.

But Americans have seen that the government can work when it’s funded, and there’s no going back from that.

Welfare isn’t a dirty word

There’s no evidence that cutting government programs benefits anyone, ever, but that hasn’t stopped American politicians from claiming that people relying on the government is dangerous and will lead to the destruction of American society. Under President Ronald Reagan, the myth of the “welfare queen” – someone who would take advantage of handouts to live large – was born. The motive behind this disparagement was, simply, greed. By kicking people off welfare and forcing Americans to expect less from our government, politicians could afford to give money to the people who need it least – the super-rich and corporations (who in turn fund the campaigns of those politicians). The massive rise in inequality seen in the last 40 years is a direct result of gutting these programs and transferring their funding to the wealthy.

But it wasn’t only Republicans who trashed government assistance. Bill Clinton campaigned for president largely on the idea that he would get Americans off government assistance. The US has been facing a multi-decade anti-welfare campaign by politicians on both sides of the aisle.

The anti-government-assistance myths we’ve been told are always racially charged: white Americans are less likely to support government assistance – even if they rely on it – if they think it’s going to people of color.

But now the anti-welfare crowd is in a conundrum. The money, assistance, and protections given to Americans during the pandemic are popular, and many Americans are starting to favor more progressive policies. The same old arguments about welfare making people lazy aren’t holding up anymore.

The way the United States handled the pandemic is far from commendable, but if we don’t recognize the policies and programs that did work, then we won’t be able to fight for their continuation and expansion in the future.

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New York reports a record 15 cases of a rare disease linked to rat urine in 2021, as vermin complaints flood in

A dog is seen clutching the body of a dead rat in its jaws.
A jagdterrier holds a dead rat in its mouth after hunting it in a dumpster in lower Manhattan on May 14, 2021.

  • New York has recorded 15 cases of leptospirosis, and one death, in 2021. The rare disease comes from exposure to rats.
  • Three of the people infected were experiencing homelessness.
  • To help drive down the city’s rat problem, a volunteer group of dog-owners go rat hunting on Friday nights.

Rats have been terrorizing New Yorkers even more than usual this year, teaming up in clan warfare during the food-scarce days of strict Covid lockdowns and harassing sidewalk diners once the city began opening up.

And this year, more New Yorkers have been falling seriously ill from a rare but potentially fatal bacterial disease called leptospirosis, which is spread through exposure to rats, and specifically through contact with rat urine or contaminated water.

Last month, the city’s health department reported 14 cases of leptospirosis – an unusually high number since just New York has documented a total of 57 cases in the 15 years since 2006 – and alerted healthcare providers to be on the lookout for symptoms. Of the first 14 cases, 13 people were hospitalized with acute renal and hepatic failure, and one person died as a result of an infection, the alert said.

Last week, there was a 15th case. That person appears to have recovered, the health department told Insider.

A man holds a bag of green pellets.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee to be the next mayor of New York, holds a bag of rat poison in 2019.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics and some people won’t experience any symptoms, though one in ten cases progress to severe complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every year, there are roughly 150 cases of nationwide, according to the CDC, with most cases occurring in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

The last time leptospirosis made news in New York was in 2017, when a cluster in the Bronx landed three people in the emergency room – sparking a wave of media coverage and criticism of the city’s rat mitigation efforts. A 46-year-old man who worked in a meat processing facility had been hospitalized for muscle pain and shortness of breath after cutting his hand at work. He eventually developed the first documented case of testicular swelling associated with leptospirosis.

The two others lived or worked on the same block where the first man worked. Of the three, two recovered and one person died, the city said at the time.

A few months later, New York issued a veterinary medical alert when dogs started falling ill, some of which were believed to have slurped contaminated water in standing puddles while taking walks during the unusually warm winter.

There are about 16 cases of canine leptospirosis a year in New York, according to a surveillance report. Canine cases do not predict where human cases will occur, and while canine to human transmission is possible, no case has ever been documented in New York.

Climate change, homelessness

The 15 cases of leptospirosis reported this year came from all over the city. The city’s health department says it can’t say for certain what’s behind the higher number of cases.

Climate change is a likely driver, since warm, moist environments contribute to higher rates of leptospirosis. “Changes in climate that allow bacteria to persist could contribute to an increase in human cases,” a health department spokesperson told Insider this week.

The spokesperson said that none of the leptospirosis cases had been traced to the widespread flooding in September from Hurricane Ida. Similarly, no infections had been linked to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Housing insecurity also puts people at greater risk of coming in close contact with rats and contaminated water. Three of the people infected this year were experiencing homelessness, and all of the local infections recorded in the health department’s database since the year 2000 involved a person who was experiencing poverty.

A sign affixed to a tree reads "Caution" and shows an image of a rat.
A health department notice about rat control is seen on a street in Brooklyn on June 16, 2017.

Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said leptospirosis frequently goes undiagnosed because it affects vulnerable populations who often can’t access healthcare.

“The main issue for practicing physicians in big cities is to know about the disease, and then consider it in patients presenting with certain risk factors such as poverty or homelessness,” he said in an email.

A task for Sisyphus

Brown rats, sometimes known as Norwegian rats, have been a fixture of New York City since they began arriving on boats from Western Europe in the 1700s. In 2014, statistician Jonathan Auerbach estimated that there were about 2 million rats in New York, which is about a quarter the size of the city’s human population.

There’s no reliable headcount of New York City rats and how many of them carry the disease. Dr. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist who co-authored a 2014 study on pathogens including leptospirosis in New York rats, said that the best thing the city can do is invest in rodent control.

The city spends millions of dollars a year getting rid of rats. There’s even a regular “Rat Academy,” which is aimed at turning community members into soldiers in the war on rats. (It will be held virtually this year, starting Oct. 21, and you can register here.)

But as Joseph Lhota, who was known as the city’s “rat czar” in the 1990s, put it once: “Anybody who’s in charge of eradicating rats in New York knows exactly what Sisyphus felt like.”

A masked man is seen walking by a pile of trash and a poster of the New York mayor.
A poster of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen on a street where trash bags have been left out for collection during the Covid19 pandemic in June 2020.

Just a few months after the 2017 outbreak in the Bronx, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded “more rat corpses” and announced a $32 million anti-rat plan on top of the city’s regular sanitation budget. This included $8.8 million for new trash compactors and another $16.3 million to put down concrete “rat pads” over the dirt, basement floors at the city’s public housing units with the worst rat issues.

But then came Covid. While it appears that the widespread closures of restaurants and bars in March of 2020 helped to depress the number of rats scampering through the city, New York’s vermin population appears to have more than recovered, says Dr. Robert Corrigan, a New York urban rodentologist who has guided several mayors on their anti-rat initiatives.

Rat complaints to New York’s 311 hotline dipped down during 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and have increased by 20% so far in 2021, for a total of almost 20,000 complaints.

That coincided with a $45.6 million sanitation department budget cut, which reduced trash pick up around the city, including a 25 percent reduction in the areas identified by de Blasio’s plan for rat mitigation.

Last week, a resident from Mariana Bracetti Plaza in the East Village – one of the developments included in de Blasio’s anti-rat plan – posted a video to Instagram that went viral. In it, rats were plundering the pile of trash outside her window so voraciously that it woke her up.

A spokesperson for the New York Housing Authority said that inspectors had responded to the infestation and that no recent leptospirosis infections had been reported at its properties.

A man holds up a dead rat for two other people to see, as they all hold dogs by the leash.
Richard Reynolds holds two dead rats hunted by his Jadterrier.

A Batman for New York’s rat-averse

Richard Reynolds knows all too well the problem of rats repeatedly returning to a pile of garbage.

Reynolds leads a double-life: By day, he’s an American Kennel Club certified dog show judge. By night, he runs a volunteer group of rat-hunting dog-owners, becoming a version of Batman responding to calls from desperate city residents. He gets complaints from public housing projects “constantly,” often to the same trash cans.

Most Friday nights, for over thirty years, he makes the trip into New York from his home in New Jersey to lead rat-hunting trips with his terriers.

The resulting spectacle is not for the squeamish, as fresh blood streams from the dogs’ mouths and maggot-infested rat carcasses are dragged out into the open.

Reynolds says he’s never had a dog get sick as long as he’s been hunting rats.

“You can tell when you see a pile of dead rats if they look sick and dehydrated, they probably have lepto,” Reynolds said. “Our dogs walk right past those rats.”

A row of dead rats are seen near to a group of leashed dogs.
Richard Reynolds with other members of the volunteer R.A.T.S. squad in lower Manhattan.

Like others, Reynolds is well aware that ridding New York City of rats is an uphill battle.

“If you have two rats today, you’ll have 24,000 rats a year from now if there’s enough trash for them to eat,” he said.

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Delta announced 3 new routes to Panama in its latest network expansion

Touring Delta Air Lines' new terminal at LaGuardia Airport  - Delta Hard Hat Tour 2021
Touring Delta Air Lines’ new terminal at LaGuardia Airport.

  • Delta Air Lines is launching three new routes and one additional frequency to Panama City, Panama this winter.
  • The expansion will mark Delta’s highest number of flights to the country since it started service there in 1998.
  • Delta’s flight from Orlando will be the carrier’s only international route out of the central Florida city.

Delta Air Lines is focusing on Panama City, Panama in its latest network expansion, announcing three all-new nonstop routes to the Central American country on Friday.

Delta is launching three new routes to Panama City in December from Los Angeles, Orlando, and New York, expanding its operation in the country to 13 weekly flights, which is an 80% increase in capacity since 2019, according to the airline. In addition to new routes, the airline is also adding a second Saturday-only frequency from its hub in Atlanta, set to begin on December 18. According to Delta, this winter will mark the highest number of flights to Panama since beginning service there in 1998.

“From its breathtaking beaches and vibrant culture to its competitive economy in Latin America, Panama is a highly sought destination for business and leisure travelers alike,” said Luciano Macagno, Delta’s managing director – Latin America, Caribbean, and South Florida. “With our new direct flights from our L.A. and JFK hubs that offer significant U.S. connectivity, as well as the demand from the local Orlando community, we’re looking forward to introducing Delta’s signature hospitality and exceptional onboard experience to more customers planning their next trip.”

The launch of these routes indicates Delta sees strong business and leisure demand to the country, which has had a good recovery since the pandemic. According to Cirium data for October, airlines are operating 83% of the flights offered to Panama during the same time in 2019. Tourism in Panama spiked over the summer, with over 50,000 visitors in June 2021, according to CEIC data, compared to the 30,000 in May. However, this is still well below 2019 levels which saw over 120,000 tourists.

Delta will face strong competition from Panama’s national carrier Copa Airlines, which has its “Hub of the Americas” in Panama City. Last month, the airline joined the government in promoting tourism in the country, including launching its “Panama Stopover” and “Panama Irresistible” programs, according to Spanish aviation media outlet Aviaci Online.

The stopover initiative, which was done with the support of the Tourism Promotion Fund, known as PROMTUR, offers travelers the option to add a multi-day stop in Panama City to their reservation at no additional cost.

“One of the main objectives of PROMTUR Panama is to generate demand for international travelers through strategic alliances, and programs such as the Panama Stopover, align our efforts to position the country as a tourist destination in an attractive way for the thousands of tourists who travel through Copa Airlines,” said PROMTUR’s general director Fernando Fondevila.

Meanwhile, the company’s “Panama Irresistible” program offers discounts to Panama from dozens of cities in its network, including Los Angeles and Orlando, according to Aviaci Online.

Here’s a closer look at Delta’s new routes to Panama.

Between Orlando and Panama City, Panama

City skyline and Lake Eola at Orlando in Florida
Orlando, Florida

Delta will launch Saturday-only flights between Orlando and Panama City on December 18 using a Boeing 737-900 aircraft, which can carry 180 passengers. The outbound will depart Orlando at 10:30 a.m. and land in Panama City at 1:50 p.m., with the return leaving at 3:20 p.m. and arriving at 6:40 p.m. The route will be the airline’s only international flight out of Orlando and will face competition from Copa Airlines.

Between Los Angeles and Panama City, Panama

los angeles skyline
Los Angeles, California

Delta will launch once-daily flights between Los Angeles and Panama City on December 18 using a Boeing 757 aircraft, which can carry 199 passengers. The outbound flight will operate on Saturdays and depart Los Angeles at 8:50 p.m. and land in Panama City at 5:45 a.m. the next day. The return will operate on Sundays and leave at 8:05 a.m. and arrive at 11:15 a.m. Delta will compete with Copa Airlines on the route.

Between New York’s JFK International Airport and Panama City, Panama

Buildings in Manhattan as seen from the tall One Vanderbilt building against a blue sky.
New York City, New York

Delta will launch thrice-weekly flights on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between New York-JFK and Panama City on December 20 using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which can carry 160 passengers. Frequencies will increase to four times weekly on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in March 2022. The outbound will depart New York in the morning and the return will leave Panama City in the afternoon. Copa Airlines will be Delta’s only competitor.

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What will legal cannabis sales look like in New York City? Not even the biggest dispensary chain in the US knows.

People walk past the Weed World store on March 31, 2021, in Midtown New York
People walk past the Weed World store on March 31, 2021, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Despite the shop’s name, it doesn’t sell any products containing THC.

  • As of March 31, 2021, cannabis became legal in New York City.
  • It’s still unclear when legal sales of cannabis will begin in America’s biggest market.
  • “We don’t know…and not just on the timeline,” Curaleaf exec Patrik Jonsson told Insider.

Cannabis has been legal in New York City since the end of March, but there’s still no way to legally purchase it.

What is expected to be America’s largest cannabis market is still stuck in limbo as New York legislators hammer out the details.

When will consumers be able to walk into a store and buy cannabis?

“We don’t know, we don’t know,” Patrik Jonsson, northeast regional president at Curaleaf, told Insider. “And not just on the timeline, but also what we’re going to be allowed to do,” he said.

Curaleaf is among the top cannabis MSOs, or multi-state operators, in the United States, according to The Motley Fool. It has over 100 dispensaries in 23 states, including New York State where it operates several medical dispensaries.

Jonsson is responsible for overseeing Curaleaf’s business in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. He said working on New York City right now is “kind of a moving target,” because it’s impossible to plan for the future without knowing what the regulations will be.

“We’re kind of hedging our bets on how big, how small, how quick,” Jonsson said. “‘Cause none of that is set in stone. We don’t know if we’re allowed to be in one location. Are we allowed two locations? Can it be three locations?”

People in line at Rocky Mountain Cannabis Store, a cannabis dispensary in Dinosaur, Colorado.
In Colorado, cannabis has been legal and regulated for sale in stores since January 2014.

Cannabis laws vary dramatically from state to state, and New York is in a unique position where two of the surrounding states (New Jersey and Connecticut) are concurrently writing their own regulation on adult cannabis use.

In New York, for instance, only existing medical cannabis producers – like Curaleaf – will be able to both cultivate and sell cannabis. New entrants to the recreational market will have to choose to either cultivate or sell, not both.

But without knowing what type of retail stores will be allowed, how many will be allowed, and how they’ll operate – to say nothing of not knowing when they’ll be able to open for business – potential retailers are being more careful before diving in.

“Obviously the prices are pretty steep in a place like Manhattan,” Jonsson said. “So, we’re looking for locations, but we’re also going to be strategic on how do we hold that location without knowing for sure if it’s a location we’re actually going to be able to use. That’s a game that all the current operators are looking at.”

Manhattan retail was hit particularly hard during the height of the COVID pandemic, with tourism and commuters simultaneously disappearing from major sections of midtown and downtown Manhattan. Chains like Starbucks closed dozens of stores, many small businesses shuttered for good, and some new entrants are using that as an opportunity to get a foothold in New York City.

It’s unclear if cannabis dispensaries will be able to take advantage of the current glut of open Manhattan retail space.

Jonsson said that Curaleaf is currently anticipating retail sales to open in New York starting in early 2023, but he’s hoping it’ll be sooner given Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent fast-tracking initiative and subsequent council appointments.

When asked last week by Insider senior politics reporter Jake Lahut when retail cannabis sales will begin, Hochul declined to comment. In a follow up email, deputy communications director for economic development Jason Gough similarly declined to offer a timeline.

“We will continue to work expeditiously to bring this new industry to life safely,” Gough said.

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New Yorkers are biking, scootering, and jogging to New Jersey to bet on sports games

biker on george washington bridge
A cyclist rides onto the George Washington Bridge on August 16, 2011 in New York City.

  • New Yorkers are hitting the pavement to cross the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.
  • They’re biking, scootering, and jogging to cross state lines and virtually sports bet, according to the New York Times.
  • New York City has technically legalized online sports betting, but it hasn’t rolled out yet.

If you’re a New Yorker hoping to make a dime off a sports game – but without losing money to a toll – the place for you might just be a jog or e-scooter ride away.

The New York Times’ David Waldstein reported that a group of bettors are taking to leg or wheel and traversing the George Washington Bridge to make their wagers. That’s because the George Washington Bridge connects Upper Manhattan with New Jersey; in Manhattan, bettors still aren’t able to legally gamble on games on their phones. But in New Jersey, they can. Cue the bikers, scooters, and runners.

One bettor, Colman Cooper, arrived in New Jersey via bike. He told the New York Times that if he won on 1 p.m. games, he might bike back from Manhattan to New Jersey to try his hand again for a 4 p.m. game.

The entrance to the George Washington Bridge is located in New York’s Washington Heights. For New Yorkers residing in Upper Manhattan – which includes neighboring Inwood and Harlem – as well as the Bronx, the bridge is easily accessible. Once on the bridge, there’s just about a mile and a half between you and New Jersey.

It’s a byproduct of the ongoing rollout of sports betting – especially mobile sports betting – and the way that some bettors have gotten creative during the pandemic. In 2018, the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting, Insider’s Alexandra Licata reported. New Jersey launched its sports betting that year.

Currently, New Yorkers can only bet on sports in-person at a handful of casinos upstate, according to MarketWatch. In April 2021, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would soon have its own online sports betting but said the state needed to decide on an operator to run that outfit.

Since New York hasn’t done that yet, it’s still not legal to place mobile wagers in the state, according to the Times.

New Yorkers heading to Jersey isn’t a new phenomenon. Sports Illustrated’s Ben Pickman reported in August on how virtual sports bettors flock to Linwood Pizza, right across the bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Owner Jim Missiris told Sports Illustrated that his specialty pizza output increases by 50% during football season.

“It’s almost like a party being in here,” Missiris told Sports Illustrated.

The pandemic also fueled a boom in online sports betting. The American Gaming Association said that a record 7.6 million Super Bowl bettors in 2021 would wager virtually, a 63% year-over-year increase. Meanwhile, the number of bettors planning to bet in person dropped.

And, as the New York Times highlighted, the bridge also saw a pandemic boom – because the in-person New Jersey casino closed. Biking and e-scootering also took off even more during the pandemic, as work-from-home denizens yearned to safely get around and get some air.

But while New Yorkers are getting their steps – and bets – in, the practice might not be so healthy for New York’s wallet.

New York State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. chairs the racing, gaming, and wagering committee, and has been a proponent for legalizing virtual betting to help raise funds for state programs. Addabbo told the Times that New York’s legislation includes funding for gambling addiction programs; the state’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports calls gambling addiction a “hidden addiction,” and advises that having a plan before gambling can help adults gamble responsibly.

“That’s our money that’s going over that bridge,” Addabbo told the Times. “Money that should be going to New York’s education system is going to New Jersey. It burns me up.”

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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio owes nearly $320,000 in taxpayer money for security detail on his presidential campaign as he mulls running for governor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wearing a blue tuxedo with black lapels and a black bowtie at the 2021 Met Gala.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) at the 2021 Met Gala.

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is in hot water over his alleged misuse of his security detail.
  • He owes nearly $320,000 in taxpayer money from using NYC security for his presidential campaign.
  • The City Department of Investigation found a “misuse of NYPD resources for a personal benefit.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is once again under scrutiny for his use of public resources, this time in a new 47-page report from the City Department of Investigation.

The stern report found de Blasio owes nearly $320,000 in taxpayer funds from his security detail accompanying him to Iowa and South Carolina during his failed 2020 presidential bid. That figure does not include officer salaries or overtime, and neither the mayor nor his presidential campaign have paid the city back yet, according to the report.

Investigators also cited de Blasio using a police van and cops to help his daughter move, which the authors of the report described as misuse of NYPD resources for a personal benefit.”

In a statement to The New York Times, who first reported on the investigation, the mayor’s office lambasted the findings.

“This unprofessional report purports to do the N.Y.P.D.’s job for them, but with none of the relevant expertise – and without even interviewing the official who heads intelligence for the City,” de Blasio’s spokesperson said in a statement. “As a result, we are left with an inaccurate report, based on illegitimate assumptions and a naïve view of the complex security challenges facing elected officials today.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for additional comment.

To prevent a similar problem from happening in the future, the report recommended using the Conflicts of Interest Board to publicly issue advice to elected officials about how they use city resources when campaigning or doing other political activities.

In the past, the mayor has been criticized by political opponents and mocked by the general public for his use of a city motorcade to transport him from Gracie Mansion all the way down to Brooklyn to use the Park Slope YMCA, – a 12.5 mile drive in Big Apple traffic – and they’ve been caught speeding.

A day before the report was released, The New York Times reported that de Blasio “has begun to tell people privately that he plans to run for governor of New York next year, according to three people with direct knowledge of his conversations with fellow Democrats and donors.”

He will be in need of a new job after his mayoral term expires on Dec. 31, and a primary challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul could be his next move now that his nemesis Andrew Cuomo has left Albany in disgrace.

The mayor has not outright denied his interest in running for governor, and recently said he wants to stay engaged in public life.

“So, I want to serve,” he said in a Sept. 29 briefing. “I’m going to figure out the right way to serve and the right time to serve.”

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Anti-vaccine protesters knocked over a mobile COVID-19 testing site in Manhattan during a protest against NYC vaccine requirements

Protestors demonstrate against the NYC vaccine mandate outside the Department of Education headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Protestors demonstrate against the mandate requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated outside the Department of Education headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., October 4, 2021.

  • Anti-vaxxers knocked over a mobile COVID testing site in New York during a march against the city’s vaccine mandate.
  • As of Monday, all city workers, including teachers, were required to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.
  • Mayor de Blasio said 95% of public school staffers had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday morning.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Anti-vaccine protesters in Manhattan tore down a mobile COVID-19 testing site tent during a Monday demonstration against the vaccine mandate in New York City, Vice News reported.

Protesters marched through the city to demonstrate against a city-wide mandate requiring all city workers – including teachers and school staff – to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly. The march eventually gathered outside the Department of Education in Brooklyn.

During the demonstration, some protesters knocked over a tent and flipped the table and chairs at a mobile testing center in Union Square in New York.

New York City’s vaccine mandate for school teachers and staff took effect on October 4, the same day as the protest.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said, as of Monday morning, 95% of the city’s 148,000 public school staffers had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the Associated Press reported.

“Our parents need to know their kids will be safe,” de Blasio said, citing the AP report. “They entrust us with their children. That’s what this mandate is all about. Every adult in our schools is now vaccinated, and that’s going to be the rule going forward.”

The New York Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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After a year without concerts, I went to one of New York’s biggest music festivals. I learned what I missed – and didn’t miss – about big events.

Governors Ball 2021
Governors Ball Music Festival, New York City 2021

  • After over a year without concerts, I went to Governors Ball NYC with 50,000 other attendees.
  • This summer’s festival season marked the return of live music for most fans, leading to high expectations.
  • Between Bleachers and King Princess, I learned what I missed – and didn’t miss – about big events.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Like many people, the closest thing I’ve had to live music this past year and a half was blasting Olivia Rodrigo in my car during much-needed escapes from my childhood bedroom.

As we collectively turned to singing in the shower, live music revenue declined by 75% in 2020, according to Goldman Sachs. Overall, the US concert industry lost an estimated $30 billion, concert trade publication Pollstar said in its year-end report.

Alongside (too many) others, I embarked on the 7 train to Citi Field on Saturday, ready to end my concert drought with Bleachers, King Princess, Phoebe Bridgers, Aminé, Cardi B, and ASAP Rocky.

At first, my friend and I hovered at the edge of the crowd. While it was comforting knowing that a COVID-19 vaccine or negative test was required for entry, my pandemic brain wasn’t quite ready to dive into a tightly packed audience.

Soon enough, we were belting “I wanna get better!” during a cathartic back and forth between Bleachers’ saxophone player and the crowd, as lead singer Jack Antonoff yelled out “the louder you scream, the harder he blows.”

The guttural roar from fans that followed was the exact reason I came to Governors Ball – to hear and feel something visceral again after spending my day-to-day at home on a screen.

billie eilish gov ball
Billie Eilish performs at Governors Ball in New York City on Friday.

This summer’s festival season marked the return of live music for most fans, with large festivals including Pitchfork Fest, Electric Zoo, and Firefly Festival scattered throughout September.

Artists and fans alike had high expectations for live music’s rebirth, as Billie Eilish succinctly expressed on stage in response to a sheepish crowd at iHeartRadio Festival: “I didn’t wait a year and a half to watch this … let’s have fun and dance and jump around.”

Beyond my primary desire to have a good time, I also felt a second, more powerful motivation playing in the background in the days leading up to Governors Ball: the hope that maybe, a day of dancing and adrenaline and song could wipe away the stress I had accumulated over the past year and a half.

From overpriced kombucha to a quickly draining social battery, I realized a clean-slate was not attainable quite yet, even when indulging in post-pandemic fantasies like Governors Ball.

While the festival didn’t meet my life-altering expectations, I bought another concert ticket for a smaller show the next day. I’m optimistic that as the live music industry recovers, so will we.

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New York mandate increased COVID-19 vaccine rate of healthcare workers

nurses vaccine
RN Janelle Roper, left, administers the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to Nurse Anesthetist Kate-Alden Hartman.

  • New York’s vaccine mandate helped more healthcare workers get vaccinated, according to state data.
  • 87% of hospital workers in the state are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Hospitals and healthcare facilities are currently facing staffing shortages as nurses leave citing burnout and difficult working conditions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Since New York mandated the coronavirus vaccine for healthcare workers in the state, the vaccination rate of hospital employees has doubled compared to the rate of adults in the state.

The mandate, which went into full effect on Monday, created an ultimatum for healthcare workers in New York to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or lose their jobs.

As of Wednesday, 87% of hospital workers in the state have completed their vaccination series, meaning they have received all required doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Out of all the adults living in New York, under 75% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the New York department of health.

Before the mandate was announced, only 76% of hospital workers were fully vaccinated, causing an 11-percentage-point increase in the state, according to data obtained by the Wall Street Journal. There was a 5-point rise for all adults in the state too after the mandate was announced.

New York governor Kathy Hochul prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members and workers outside New York to aid with a potential shortage of healthcare workers once the mandate went into effect. In a press release on Tuesday, Hochul said she was feeling optimistic about the mandate after the increase in the vaccination rate amongst healthcare workers in the state.

“This new information shows that holding firm on the vaccine mandate for health care workers is simply the right thing to do to protect our vulnerable family members and loved ones from COVID-19,” Hochul said in a statement. “I am pleased to see that health care workers are getting vaccinated to keep New Yorkers safe, and I am continuing to monitor developments and ready to take action to alleviate potential staffing shortage situations in our health care systems.”

Although healthcare workers have higher vaccination rates than the general population in the US, those who refuse vaccinations against coronavirus will place an added strain on already understaffed hospitals and care facilities. With an influx of patients because of the Delta variant and fewer nurses due to burnout and difficult working conditions, many healthcare facilities are facing staffing shortages, Insider reported. However, a nursing shortage has been looming for years, only accelerated by the pandemic as fear of contracting COVID-19 worsened working conditions.

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