1,400 illegal pot shops now open in NYC, already wreaking havoc

An astounding 1,400 shops have popped up around New York City that are illegally selling cannabis products — a situation that alarmed lawmakers decried as the “Wild, Wild West” during a City City Council hearing Wednesday.

City Sheriff Anthony Miranda and representatives of the NYPD testified that existing laws make it difficult to immediately close illicit shops and often can issue only measly $250 fines for selling pot without a license — hardly a deterrent even after seizing illegal weed and edibles.

Miranda said illegal smoke shops are “rampant throughout the city” — noting 1,400 stores are being targeted and inspected by authorities for suspected illegal activity.

Just one legal weed shop is currently open in New York City with a second expected to open next week. But all the legal and illicit sales — combined with use of pot products being legalized — has left city streets smelling decidedly skunky.

Mayor Eric Adams last year created a cannabis task force to crack down on the illegal pot market, corralling a hodgepodge of agencies with enforcement powers including the sheriff’s office, the NYPD and Department of Consumer Affairs.

Only one legal weed shop is currently open in New York City.
New York Post
Interior of Street Lawyer Services
Existing laws make it difficult to immediately close illicit shops and often only measly $250 fines can be issued for selling pot without a license.
New York Post

More alarming than the proliferation itself, one council member after another told horror stories regarding the ease with which teenaged high school students were able to access cannabis on the black market.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who represents the Lower East Side, said high school students were using credit cards to buy cannabis.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who chairs the oversight and investigations committee.

“There’s a lot of marketing that’s going to children. There’s a lot of public health issues, danger to the community. We want to make sure they’re in compliance,” Miranda said during the hearing, conducted jointly by the Council Committees on Oversight and Investigation, Consumer Affairs and Health.

NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda s
NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda said illegal smoke shops are “rampant throughout the city.”
William Farrington
Interior of Street Lawyer Services
Over 1,000 stores are being targeted and inspected by authorities for suspected illegal activity.
New York Post

The NYPD’s 311 data system received 951 complaints about illicit cannabis shops, said chief of patrol John Chell.

Chell said the illegal pot shops — with large amounts of cash on the premises — have also been a bonanza for crooks.

Robberies at smoke shops have more than doubled. A total of $1.5 million was stolen — or an average of $2,500 for the 593 reported robberies, he said.

Chell said nearly a third of the robberies of smoke shops were committed by teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.

He said robbers are hitting several smoke shops in different boroughs in one night, adding that three shops were robbed Tuesday night.

“The same group of people. It’s a challenge for us,” Chell said.

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell
The NYPD’s 311 data system received 951 complaints about illicit cannabis shops, according to NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutters

None other than state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), author of the law that legalized the recreational use of cannabis, called the number of illicit shops out there “the wild, wild west.”

“They’re busy breaking a whole series of our laws. What it is doing is harming the entire model we’ve been trying so hard to build and get established throughout the state,” Krueger said, testifying remotely at the Council investigative hearing from Albany.

Krueger said she’s in negotiations with Gov. Katy Hochul’s office to craft a new state law to beef up enforcement, making it easier for authorities to financially punish and close illegal shops.

The new legislation would stiffen fines and tax violations, make it easier to seize illegal pot and also penalize landlords for allowing illegal shops to operate on their property.

Sheriff Miranda said notices are being sent to landlords of a tenant that has been illegally selling cannabis.

“If you’re running one of these illegal shops, you’re not going to get a license. Period. Because you know you’re breaking the law and it’s not OK,” Sen. Krueger said.

Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said, “We continue to work with our partners to enforce the law and to explore every possible mechanism available to protect New Yorkers and shut down illicit operators.”

Customers buying cannabis at the only legal dispensary open — at Housing Works on Broadway in Greenwich Village — supported a crackdown in illegal shops.

NY State Senator Liz Krueger
Sen. Liz Krueger said she’s in negotiations with Gov. Katy Hochul’s office to draft a new state law to increase enforcement.
Getty Images for Housing Works

“I’ve been to other shops — you know, the fake ones. The ones that advertise CBD but also sell edibles and regular weed. But you don’t know what you’re getting at those places. You know what’s going into the weed at dispensaries,” said Jason Brown, a 47-year-old construction worker from Babylon, Long Island.

“It’s regulated and safer. You get a full layout of what’s in it..”

Brown supported a crackdown on the illegal shops with hefty fines because “would you want to pay a million dollars for a permit to open up a business here and then they’re going to let everyone else open up a business on every other corner, and sell it without a permit?”

Hannah, a 21-year-old from Crown Heights, said the illegal shops in Brooklyn are “very Ok.”
“They don’t check your IDs and there’s no security like here,” she said of the state-licensed Housing Works dispensary.

” It’s very surprising. Honestly, I feel like I’m not smoking weed when I go there.”

She said she expects better quality weed at the licensed shops but added, “If these illegal places are not selling products that you’re tripping on and end up in the hospital, OK — go for it.”

Surrounding unlicensed shops selling weed seemed unconcerned by the state-licensed dispensary nearby.

At Lush Smoke Shop on MacDougal Street, a worker there said that people prefer their cannabis products because they’re stronger and not “mid” like Housing Works weed.

The store sells popular black market products like Punch Bars (edibles) and prerolls.

One customer said, “I prefer their pre-rolls because the flavor tastes better and they get you higher.”

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