NYC weed culture went up in smoke with legalization, gray-market crackdown


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NYC weed culture: In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, Josh Kesselman, founder and CEO of the RAW brand of cannabis products, expressed his concerns about the impact of the legalization of marijuana and the subsequent crackdown on gray-market shops in New York City. Kesselman, known as the “Willy Wonka” of the weed industry, opposes the crackdown on these businesses, arguing that they are entrepreneurs providing a service to consumers. He believes that consumers should have the choice to buy regulated or unregulated products and suggests increased taxation as an alternative to crackdowns. Additionally, Kesselman announced a donation of $100,000 to The JUSTÜS Foundation to support legacy cannabis operators navigating the legal market. Despite the crackdowns, Kesselman’s business has not been directly affected, as people will find a way to access his products. However, he believes that the legalization of marijuana has made it less cool and less appealing to the younger generation.

Crackdown on Smoke Shops

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NYC weed culture

Mayor and District Attorney’s Announcement

Recently, there has been a crackdown on smoke shops in New York City, much to the dismay of Josh Kesselman, the founder and CEO of the RAW brand of popular cannabis products. This crackdown was announced by Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., who have expressed their concerns about the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in Manhattan. Local law enforcement and elected officials have joined forces with the aim of combating this issue.

Introduction of Bills by City Council Members

To further address the problem of unlicensed cannabis retailers, city council members in New York City have introduced two bills. The first bill proposes a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers of purchasing cannabis products from unlicensed shops. The second bill aims to add 311 as a complaint category to report unlicensed cannabis retailers. These measures have sparked a contentious debate among stakeholders in the cannabis industry, including Josh Kesselman.

Josh Kesselman’s Opposition

Kesselman’s Disagreement with Crackdown

Josh Kesselman strongly opposes the crackdown on smoke shops selling cannabis products. As the founder and CEO of the RAW brand, he believes that these shops should not be targeted. He disagrees with the characterization of these entrepreneurs as engaging in illegal activities and argues that they are an important part of the local economy.

Belief in Free Market Economy

Kesselman firmly believes in a free market economy, where consumers have the freedom to choose between regulated and unregulated products. He argues that consumers should be the ones to decide whether they want to purchase from unregulated shops or regulated ones, even if it means paying a higher price. He opposes the intervention of law enforcement in limiting consumer choices.

Support for Entrepreneurs

Kesselman recognizes the contributions of smoke shop owners towards keeping New York City afloat. Many of these shops have been around for a long time and pay significant rent, thereby supporting the local economy. He believes that entrepreneurs should be treated with respect and supported, rather than subjected to crackdowns.

Alternative Approach


Proponent of Increased Taxation

As an alternative to crackdowns on smoke shops, Kesselman advocates for increased taxation. He believes that increased taxation can regulate the market and ensure compliance without stifling the entrepreneurial spirit of smoke shop owners. Kesselman argues that this approach is more conducive to a free economy and provides consumers with multiple choices.

Importance of Consumer Choice

Kesselman emphasizes the importance of consumer choice in a free market. He believes that consumers should have the freedom to choose where they purchase their cannabis products, even if it means opting for unregulated shops. By prioritizing consumer choice, Kesselman argues that the industry can thrive and meet the diverse preferences of cannabis consumers.

Donation to The JUSTÜS Foundation

Launch of RAW Seeds Fellowships

In a display of his commitment to supporting cannabis operators who have been in the industry prior to its decriminalization, Kesselman donated $100,000 to The JUSTÜS Foundation. This donation will be used to launch the RAW Seeds Fellowships, a grant program aimed at providing opportunities and support to “legacy cannabis operators”. These operators, who played a significant role in building the cannabis industry from the ground up, now face the challenge of navigating the legal market.

Supporting Legacy Cannabis Operators

Kesselman believes that as the cannabis industry undergoes transformation and embraces legality, it is important to ensure that those who laid the groundwork are not left behind. The RAW Seeds Fellowships aim to empower legacy cannabis operators and ensure that they can flourish alongside the emerging legal market. By providing support and resources, Kesselman hopes to create a more inclusive and equitable cannabis industry.

Impact on Kesselman’s Business

No Direct Effect on Sales

Despite the crackdown on smoke shops, Josh Kesselman’s business, the RAW brand, has not seen a direct negative impact on sales. Kesselman points out that as long as there is demand for cannabis products, people will find a way to obtain them, whether from regulated or unregulated sources. This resilience in sales demonstrates the ongoing popularity and demand for RAW products.

Continued Demand for RAW Products

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RAW, the New York-headquartered company, experienced exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for RAW products tripled, and the company reported revenues exceeding $100 million. This continued demand is a testament to the quality and popularity of RAW’s cannabis products. Despite the crackdowns, people continue to seek out RAW’s offerings, further solidifying the brand’s presence in the market.

Origins and Popularity of RAW Brand

Inspiration from Hip Hop Icons

The RAW brand draws its inspiration from hip hop icons, particularly Big Daddy Kane and the Wu-Tang Clan. These influential figures played a role in shaping the brand’s identity and resonated with the values it represents. This connection to hip hop culture has helped RAW establish a unique and recognizable brand image.

Expansion During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic provided an unexpected opportunity for RAW to expand its reach. With increased time spent at home and the closure of many in-person social activities, people turned to cannabis for relaxation and entertainment. RAW capitalized on this trend by offering high-quality rolling papers and other cannabis-related products, meeting the growing demand of consumers.

Celebrity Fans

RAW’s popularity extends beyond the general population, with celebrity fans including Miley Cyrus and Lil Wayne. The endorsement of these influential figures further enhances the brand’s reputation and contributes to its widespread recognition. The association with celebrities helps RAW reach a wider audience and solidify its position as a leading brand in the cannabis industry.

Legalization’s Effect on Weed Culture

Perceived Decline in Marijuana Culture

Josh Kesselman believes that the culture surrounding marijuana has declined since its legalization in certain states. He argues that the allure and excitement surrounding the substance diminish when it becomes legal and readily available. Kesselman suggests that the younger generation may be less interested in cannabis now that it has lost its rebellious and underground nature.

Effects on Consumption Rates

Kesselman predicts a slight decrease in consumption rates in the long run due to the changing perception of cannabis. As it becomes more widely accepted and accessible, he believes that its appeal may diminish. He suggests that the novelty and cool factor associated with cannabis may decrease when it loses its edginess and becomes a mainstream product. However, it remains to be seen how significantly legalization will affect consumption rates in the long term.

About Josh Kesselman

Founder and CEO of RAW

Josh Kesselman is the founder and CEO of the RAW brand, a prominent name in the cannabis industry. With a passion for entrepreneurship and cannabis culture, Kesselman has built RAW into a highly successful brand known for its quality cannabis products. He has been actively involved in advocating for the rights of entrepreneurs and supporting the growth of the cannabis industry.

Inventor of Marijuana Devices

In addition to his role as a business owner, Kesselman is also an inventor of marijuana devices. He has created innovative tools such as the helmet and umbrella for the consumption of cannabis products. Kesselman’s inventions contribute to the advancement and diversification of the cannabis industry, offering consumers unique and enjoyable experiences.

Current Legalization Status

Recreational Use in Select States

While the legalization of recreational adult-use cannabis remains a contentious issue, progress has been made in certain states. As of now, 23 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have legalized recreational use of cannabis. This shift in legislation reflects changing attitudes towards cannabis and highlights the ongoing debate surrounding its legalization at the federal level.

Federal Illegality

Despite the progress made at the state level, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level in the United States. This discrepancy between state and federal laws creates challenges and uncertainties for businesses operating in the cannabis industry. The legal status of cannabis continues to be a complex issue with ongoing implications for businesses and consumers alike.


The crackdown on smoke shops in New York City has sparked a heated debate in the cannabis industry. While some, like Josh Kesselman, oppose the crackdown and advocate for a free market economy, others support increased regulation and taxation. Kesselman’s commitment to supporting legacy cannabis operators through initiatives such as the RAW Seeds Fellowships demonstrates his dedication to promoting inclusivity and equity in the industry. Despite the challenges posed by the crackdown, RAW products continue to enjoy significant demand, thanks to their quality and popularity. As the cannabis industry evolves, the impact of legalization on the culture and consumption rates remains to be seen. Ultimately, the ongoing debate surrounding cannabis legalization and regulation highlights the complex and dynamic nature of the industry.



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