The task force Mayor Eric Adams recently formed to crack down on storefronts selling unlicensed marijuana is ramping up its efforts – but shutting these shops down completely could be an uphill battle.
At a New York City Council hearing on the proliferation of unlicensed smoke shops Wednesday, Sheriff Anthony Miranda, who is leading the task force, testified that “teams will be dispatched to all five boroughs on different days of the week. We are conducting long-term and short-term investigations.”
An NYPD survey has so far identified more than 1,300 shops suspected to be selling cannabis and tobacco products illegally across the five boroughs, NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said.
In addition to seizing unregulated cannabis and tobacco products and issuing summonses and violations that result in fines, the task force is looking to target stores for trademark infringement, since some are selling products with packaging that mimics popular brands. So far, the inspections have resulted in three arrests – two for felony offenses and one for an open warrant, Miranda said.
When Adams announced the task force in mid-December, he said he hoped to avoid reincarcerating people for marijuana, since decriminalization was a primary goal of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act that legalized the drug in New York.
“The goal is not necessarily to make arrests, but when the law requires, it we are going to do that,” Miranda said.
But some members of the City Council lamented that the raided shops remain open and appear to be selling the same products. They urged the city to do more. Some raised concerns that the shops were opening near schools and marketing and selling to minors. Others worried that the products being sold were unsafe for consumers.
Some also argued that illegal marijuana purveyors were affecting the success of the legal market — which has prioritized licenses for those with marijuana convictions as a form of atonement for past marijuana criminalization.
“These unlawful shops are undermining our efforts to help those who were affected by those bad laws,” said Councilmember Oswald Feliz of the Bronx.
Asked about the possibility of fully shutting violators, Miranda said that could happen under the city’s nuisance abatement law – but it wouldn’t happen overnight.
“Nuisance abatement takes a little while because the person has to have due process,” Miranda said.
The illegal storefronts have also put some heat on marijuana delivery services — many of which have been operating for years, albeit less out in the open. Several councilmembers asked task force members whether they had plans to stop the delivery services as well.
Miranda said it’s not currently part of the task force’s work but added that “as that market develops we will take action accordingly.” Licensed cannabis dispensaries will be able to operate their own delivery services, and the state will also issue additional delivery licenses.
Speaking before the hearing, Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez said she was not deterred by the sheer number of shops that have opened. “It’s on us” to stop them, she said.