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The Mayor Says He’s Cracking Down on Unlicensed Weed Sales. His Task Force Says Otherwise.

The task force revisited only two of the first 53 locations it raided. Both were selling pot again.

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In December, an unlicensed smoke shop in Manhattan was far from shutting down; it was hiring more staff.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Days after Eric Adams proclaimed in his State of the City address that “we are not going to let bad actors undermine the promise we made to New Yorkers who were impacted by marijuana criminalization,” his administration informed lawmakers that the task force the mayor announced with fanfare in November to crack down on widespread unlicensed sales had slowed its roll considerably since then.

While in 2022 the task force inspected 53 weed-selling locations in 11 days between Nov. 14 and Nov. 19 and then Nov. 29 and Dec. 3, the new data provided in a letter to the City Council, weeks after lawmakers held a hearing on unlicensed sales, show that it has only inspected 54 locations in the two and a half months since then. 

Only two of the 53 locations that were originally targeted by the task force have been visited by it a second time. Both had restocked “illegal cannabis” between inspections. In the course of 107 raids, sheriff’s deputies have made just two felony arrests, “related to possession of over 10 lbs. Of cannabis” and the NYPD has made one, on an outstanding warrant. 

Altogether, the task force has inspected fewer than 10% of an estimated 1,400 smoke shops citywide, while seizing just over $1 million worth of cannabis products. The task force adds the NYPD, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protections (DCWP) and the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to an enforcement effort that’s been led by the sheriff’s office, a civil law enforcement agency that’s part of the city’s department of finance.

While the city’s 160 deputy sheriffs and fraud investigators struggle to keep pace and, as the letter notes, the sheriff’s office has 45 unfilled positions, the NYPD has taken a hands-off approach to pot sales: 

“If officers only observe cannabis products displayed for sale, officers may not take action. Instead, the officers are asked to document all relevant information and make a notification to the Office of Cannabis Management.”

‘Doing the Best He Can’

The letter from the city notes that, contrary to the mayor’s talk in recent months about shutting down businesses that persist in selling cannabis without a license after they’d been warned to stop: “The Task Force did not close any locations. While it is routine for us to temporarily close a location during our routine inspections for safety reasons, all locations are able to re-open as soon as our inspection is completed.” 

And, the letter concedes, the city has not pursued any asset forfeiture actions against businesses inspected by the task force in November or December, since “Most of the, more than 100,000 products seized, [sic] were not cannabis but rather other contraband including untaxed cigarettes, contraband vapes. Some cannabis products were tested although many were not. If there is not a pending criminal prosecution it would not be a good use of resources to have the lab tests complete.”

City Councilmember Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) praised Sheriff Anthony Miranda for doing what he can to quash unlicensed weed sales in smoke shops, but added that the amount of time spent in one shop confiscating merchandise takes away from its ability to discourage sales across the city. 

“We spent one day with the sheriff. I’m talking about 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Brewer told THE CITY. “I was there the whole time. Three shops. That’s how long it takes. In one case, they took out 18 bags and in another case 20. This is flavored e-cigarettes, untaxed cigarettes [and] cash from a safe.  

“When you realize that not many people can really move that fast because they have other things to do, I just feel like he’s doing the best he can,” Brewer said, noting that many smoke shops are violating other rules that could be used to shut them down. 

“They’re not supposed to be within 500 feet of a school. They are,” Brewer said. “They’re not supposed to be within 200 feet of a church or synagogue. They are. They have cartoons all over the place and they’re not supposed to advertise to kids.”

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