NYC Mayor Vows to Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Stores
The city created a task force to weed out unlicensed dispensaries. They seized 100,000 products and $4 million in two weeks.
Last Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a new initiative to evict unlicensed marijuana stores from New York. With legal cannabis stores expected to open in New York late next week, Adams said a new joint task force will use raids, civil penalties and subpoenas to put the state’s counterfeit dispensaries out of business — without criminalizing the perpetrators.
“Unlicensed cannabis stores threaten a burgeoning economic opportunity for our city,” Mayor Adams said at City Hall on Thursday. The joint task force will include the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the NYPD, the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management.
The New York gray market raid begins in Brooklyn
Last month, these agencies conducted their first raids on unlicensed weed stores, including one in Brooklyn. According to the mayor, they have hit 53 deals so far. The mayor said he’s also looking to partner with the state to streamline and adjust current laws that prevent more aggressive enforcement.
“New York City is on a mission to become the number one global center for excellence, education and equity in the cannabis industry across business, science and culture,” said NYC Cannabis Czar Dasheeda Dawson. Dawson said public health, child safety and the success of the legal market were all driving forces behind the emergency task force.
How Did New York’s Weed Shops Get Out of Control?
“Look at this design. It’s alarming for parents when a child walks in with these beautiful colors and they look exactly the same. That’s what you’ll find in our stores popping up across the city,” Mayor Eric Adams said of illegal cannabis products. (NYC Mayor’s Office)
After adult possession of cannabis was legalized in New York State in March 2021, many New York City stores took advantage of this by stocking up pre-rolls and pirated buds with buds in their inventory. Some even claimed to be legitimate pharmacies, claiming to be licensed and selling popular legal brands like Cookies and Jungle Boys. A recent study showed that these stores mislead customers. They are not licensed and do not carry regulated and lab tested products. Many of the products tested in the study were found to be compatible with e.g. coli, salmonella, heavy metals and other toxins.
New York’s illicit cannabis products are weak and loaded with toxins, study results show
Juancarlos Huntt is a former Queens entrepreneur who sold weed for 20 years but is now a proud license applicant, and co-founder of New York for Social and Economic Equity (NYSEE), which helps New York entrepreneurs build wealth through ownership. Huntt said these illicit stores hurt old operators like himself, who suffered when the facility was legal and are finally ready to move forward in the legal industry.
“They claim they are old operators just because they have a deli or a smoke shop. But they’re traumatizing our people again, poisoning them with the veil of “I’m a legacy operator.” All true legacy operators, none of us have opened physical stores because we are trying to go the legal route. And those who don’t try to go the legal route would never open a store front. So it’s not [legacy]this is totally out of the ordinary.”
Juan Carlos Huntt
Chris Alexander, executive director of the New York Cannabis Office, said his office spent most of 2022 focusing on finalizing regulations and rolling out licenses. Now that the market is established, “the state wants to defend it,” Alexander said at the press conference. “We will continue this aggressive action and ensure we seize product – that is the priority of this task force.”
Older operators will contribute to fair enforcement
Shiest Bubz is one of New York’s most visible legacy operators. He said his presence at the mayor’s press conference was to ensure black and brown communities are protected from cannabis prosecution, as well as illegal products that harm legitimate cannabis companies and unsuspecting customers. (@shiestbubz / Instagram)
Shiest Bubz, co-founder of Smoker’s Club, was one of the old operators present at last week’s press conference. Bubz told Leafly, “I’ve secured my legacy.” The Smoker’s Club is pre-licensed, according to Dasheeda Dawson, but exact plans for its legal operation are not yet clear.
Bubz said on Instagram: “The legacy [community] who were present to offer our views on how to protect and support black and brown people [looking] to be successful in this cannabis industry,” Bubz wrote. “I represent the black market and the motto ‘Legacy to Legal’… I want my equity, just like you!”
“We can’t talk about enforcement without talking about how we are creating the pathways for people to actually move into the industry,” Dawson added at the conference. Other Legacy advisors included Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound, Naomi Guerroro of NUPE NYC, and cannabis attorney Jeffrey Hoffman, who represents various New Yorkers applying for cannabis licenses.
NYC legacy operators will advise the Mayor’s Joint Task Force. (NYC Mayor’s Office)
Mayor Adams said at the press conference, “We have a lot of black people and brown people who are here to really take advantage of this opportunity. In the past, if you thought about cannabis, you thought about the over-enforcement in these communities.”
But this time “it’s not about enforcement,” Mayor Adams said, confirming that arrests and criminal charges will not be part of this task force’s mission. “It’s not about repeating the heavy-handed approach” of the past. “It’s about ensuring that [licensed] Companies are successful.”
How will New York close illegal weed shops?
As city council members and industry stakeholders now call for enforcement, regulators are careful not to repeat the mistakes of past drug enforcement missions. But the threat of being barred from future licensing opportunities hasn’t deterred many illegal shopkeepers so far.
“We have some ideas, but we’re also going to reach out to the advocates that we have here,” Mayor Adams said when asked how the city plans to crack down on so many businesses in such a short amount of time. “We’ve seen other municipalities make mistakes,” Adams added. “Our goal is to get it right.”
“We need to make sure the industry keeps up with those who are exploiting the industry to hurt the legal traffickers and sellers of cannabis… Let’s make sure illegal products don’t get in the way of what we’ve been fighting for all these years.” “
Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the New York State Cannabis Bureau
State OCM officials have said they intend to adopt a “no handcuffs, no criminal charges” approach to the state’s unlicensed cannabis sellers. Mayor Adams said this spring that subpoenas, fines and civil penalties are the only enforcement actions planned for gray and illicit cannabis markets.
Businesses that break tobacco and e-cigarette regulations don’t appear to have the same leeway, as at least one man was arrested at a Brooklyn smoker’s store last month for reportedly selling cannabis and tobacco products without a license.