Hochul wants to make it easier to shut down New York’s illegal smoke shops

February 29, 2024

In response to the thousands of illegal smoke shops operating in the state, with an estimated 8,000 in New York City alone, Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to make it easier to close illicit cannabis stores. On Wednesday, the governor proposed streamlining the state’s Office of Cannabis Management’s (OCM) ability to obtain court orders to padlock stores and permit the orders to be executed by local authorities. According to Hochul, the unregulated stores not only undermine the legal marijuana market but also pose health risks to customers.

State lawmakers are considering Hochul’s proposal to strengthen cannabis enforcement as part of the annual executive budget.

“These illicit vendors flagrantly violate our laws by selling to kids, evading our taxes, and engaging in fraudulent advertising about their products,” Hochul said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Sometimes the products are even laced with dangerous chemicals.”

Hochul also called upon social media and big tech companies like Google and Yelp to ban the promotion of illegal cannabis stores on their platforms.

During Wednesday’s announcement, Hochul was joined by representatives of legal cannabis retailers, including several Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licensees, who were the first legal retail dispensaries to open in NY.

The storeowners said their legal stores had trouble competing with illegal ones, which can offer products at significantly lower prices because they don’t pay taxes.

Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday echoed the governor’s calls for the closure of illegal cannabis stores in New York City. While celebrating the opening of Matawana Dispensary, the first Black woman-owned dispensary in Brooklyn, Adams also called on Albany to grant local municipalities “explicit control” over cannabis enforcement.

“For too long, Black and Brown communities have faced high rates of drug-related incarceration and have been denied opportunities to build wealth. As we close out Black History Month, New York City is taking steps to right the wrongs of the past by supporting equitable growth in the legal cannabis industry,” Adams said.

“But it’s not enough to support the opening of new legal cannabis shops — we must also close down the illegal operators that threaten the success of legal shops and put the safety of our communities at risk.”

In November, Adams introduced the city’s Office Joint Compliance Task Force to Address Illegal Smoke Shops, a task force devoted to the enforcement of laws against unlicensed cannabis stores.

Since then, the city claims to have closed 160 illegal businesses, conducted more than 46,000 inspections, imposed nearly $90 million in penalties, and collected over $18 million in fines, according to a press release.

OCM issued more than $25 million in fines against unlicensed stores, but only collected $22,500 in fines so far, as first reported by The City. While the agency has issued numerous penalties, illegal businesses have fought the fines in court hearings that can go on for months.

There are currently 78 legal cannabis dispensaries in New York. See an updated list here.


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