New York City’s first licensed recreational marijuana dispensary served over 500 customers during its grand opening on Thursday, but those patrons weren’t the only ones on the hunt for weed.
Amid the hubbub over the start of legal, recreational-use sales, the Sheriff’s Interagency Enforcement Task Force was on the lookout for illegal storefront operations. It conducted nine store inspections in the northern part of Midtown on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials issued 21 civil summonses and seven criminal summonses carrying $26,300 in penalties, according to city data.
Inspectors also seized 3,269 containers of cannabis products from the unauthorized sellers, as well as 111.7 cartons of untaxed cigarettes and over 100 large bags of flavored vapes, hemp and flavored tobacco, according to the city.
The enforcement coincided with the carnivalesque atmosphere on Thursday in the East Village, where customers, curiosity seekers, state and local officials, and others heralded the era of legal recreational cannabis sales — which, for now, are limited to a single shop in the city.
Housing Works Cannabis Co. opened its doors at East Eighth Street and Broadway at 4:20 p.m. and was initially scheduled to close at 7:10 p.m. Instead, it stayed open past 8 p.m. to let in as many customers as possible, according to Martha Marshall, a spokesperson for Housing Works.
Eventually, security and staff cut off the line, which at one point extended around the block. Catering staff served food and soft drinks to those who waited.
In spite of the large turnout, Housing Works and other legal vendors soon to follow face stiff competition from unlicensed weed shops and other illegal sellers. Since New York legalized recreational cannabis use in March 2021, unlicensed sellers have proliferated, often from storefronts or otherwise out in the open – hence the crackdown.
The task force is led by the sheriff’s office — the enforcement arm of the city’s Department of Finance — and also includes the police department, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the state Office of Cannabis Management.
Mayor Eric Adams announced the creation of the task force in mid-December. In a two-week span, officials said at the time, the task force had inspected 53 storefronts across the city and seized more than 100,000 illegal products worth about $4 million. Officials also issued 500 civil violations and 66 criminal summonses over that time, Sheriff Anthony Miranda said.
All told, the city has conducted 248 store inspections, including 23 in December, through Thursday.