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The Delivery Service Placebo Effect

New York’s weed lollipop vans are bogus, but most have to find that out the hard way.

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Anyone who has wandered around Manhattan at any point in the past five or six years may have been surprised at the sight of brightly-colored vans adorned with pictures of flowering cannabis plants, buds curving in phallic images hitherto reserved for the National Geographic channel, and equally vibrant lollipops alongside them in strange bouquets. The vans drive past on-duty cops with the subtlety of a one-hitter in an elevator, and they plainly advertise their phone number as part of the graphic. The only thing separating these vans from the hundreds of others dotting the city advertising everything from glass repair to dog grooming is the presence of those tortoise cock-shaped buds on their decals in a state that flatly refuses to consider legalization for recreational purposes. Even our medical system is kept under so many locks and keys that only the terminally ill can receive treatment and a precious few companies control the entire industry (for what it’s worth, Columbia Care, owners of New York City’s only certified dispensaries, have refused multiple requests for comment on exactly how the state’s system is being implemented).

So how can these vans, which advertise the availability of their cannabis edibles in bold print, exist in the city? Simple. The lollipops, upon inspection, don’t have any cannabis in them at all. As long ago as 2013, The New York Post, usually good only for sports reporting, race handicapping and absurd headlines, talked to law enforcement officials who claimed to have “field tested” the lollipops and found no traces of cannabis. The story’s lede was, in true Post fashion, “The only thing that’ll get you high at a Weed World Candies wagon is the exhaust fumes.” Most cannabis users here can now see the vans for the mobile tourist traps they are, but when I first moved to the city in 2010, that wasn’t the case.

During my senior year at CUNY Hunter College, with no foresight whatsoever, I spent every penny that I had ever saved or had been saved for me living at 82nd St. and East End Ave in Yorkville, a section of the Upper East Side that fluctuates between yuppies and heroin addicts every generation or so. It took exactly one year for me to run out of money and in retrospect I think the whole thing was worth it. Among other things, that apartment gave me my first taste of delivery cannabis, which was a revelation despite the rip-off pricing—except for one night of torrential rain when I came into contact with the aforementioned phony suckers.

Usually, the system worked like this: 2.8 grams for $50. Almost always Sour Diesel. But once, a few months before the lease was up, this particular delivery service offered two vacuum sealed lollipops for $50 in addition to their usual menu. We could choose between several combinations of flavors. Cherry and green apple, grape and lime, we didn’t care. They came from the same scamsters behind the ubiquitous weed vans, but my roommate and I didn’t know that, and could not have been more excited to try an edible that hadn’t been baked in a friend’s oven with Duncan Hines.

But after laying out the $100 for our usual purchase, we found that we only had $47 cash between us. We were $3 short and determined to get our hands on what we were convinced would be the best high of our lives.

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We couldn’t use quarters—we had just emptied out the loose change for beer money—and neither of us were going out in the storm to walk 3 blocks to the ATM. Note: There is nothing in Yorkville. Its only appeal is that it sits on the island of Manhattan. Moreover, neither one of us wanted to be alone with the wiry, sunken-eyed delivery guy, who my girlfriend correctly described as looking “assaulty.” That’s when he solved the problem for us, slapping a puddle of water onto the floor from his pants and saying “If you guys have an old pair of pants I’ll give you the lollipops for $40.” It sounded like a good deal, a worn out pair of Wranglers for edibles, but looking back on it the suckers were really only worth about a dollar each. Not too harsh a lesson learned, but certainly a strange method.

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