New York City officials announced this week that they would take new steps to address the city’s growing number of unlicensed cannabis retailers in a bid to bolster the rollout of the regulated market for recreational marijuana. At a press conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. said they would also target the landlords of retailers selling weed without a license from the state.

New York’s mayor and leading prosecutor noted that the district attorney’s office had filed complaints against four unlicensed shops selling cannabis in Manhattan. The complaints allege that an NYPD officer had observed the shops selling cannabis to underage individuals and that the city is moving to shut down the shops for making illegal sales of cannabis and operating without a license.

“Legalizing cannabis was a major step forward for equity and justice — but we’re not going to take two steps back by letting illegal smoke shops take over this emerging market,” Adams said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “Today, we are proud to announce we are taking direct action against four unlicensed smoke shops in the Ninth Precinct, which will complement our efforts with District Attorney Bragg to hold these illegal businesses accountable. We are laser-focused on protecting the health and well-being of New Yorkers and ensuring this emerging industry delivers equity to those who deserve it the most.”

Last month, city leaders pledged to take action against the multitude of illicit marijuana retailers that have set up shop in New York City since the state legalized marijuana for adults last year. In December, New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched a pilot interagency task force to address the growing number of unlicensed retailers. The task force, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, the NYPD, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the Office of Cannabis Management, has identified at least 1,200 unlicensed marijuana shops in the city. An analysis by city council staff revealed 11 unlicensed shops selling cannabis within a 10-block radius of the city’s first licensed retailer.

Warnings Sent To 400 Smoke Shops

In addition to the four complaints against unlicensed shops, Adams and Bragg said that the district attorney’s office had sent letters to the more than 400 smoke shops in Manhattan, warning them that the city could initiate eviction proceedings for unlawful cannabis sales. The letter specifically informs commercial entities that the city is prepared to use its authority under New York real estate law “to require owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal trade or business, and to take over such eviction proceedings if necessary.” The letter also noted that within five days of written notice that prosecutors would “take over such eviction.”

“For nearly two years, we’ve seen a proliferation of storefronts across Manhattan selling unlicensed, unregulated, and untaxed cannabis products. It’s time for the operation of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries to end,” said Bragg. “Just as we don’t allow endless unlicensed bars and liquor stores to open on every corner, we cannot allow that for cannabis. It’s not safe to sell products that aren’t properly inspected and regulated for dosage, purity, and contaminants. And it certainly isn’t fair to competing businesses.”

Mark Sims, the CEO of cannabis investment firm RIV Capital, said in an email that the proliferation of unlicensed businesses hurts both the newly licensed adult-use cannabis retailers and existing medical marijuana firms including Etain Health, a chain of New York medical marijuana dispensaries operated by RIV, and called for more action from the state.

“While we commend Mayor Adams’ actions to combat the illicit market—it’s a positive step forward—the problem of illicit smoke shops cannot be viewed or solved in isolation,” Sims wrote in an email. “With more than 1,200 illicit shops (which is double the number of Starbucks in New York) suspected to be trafficking in illicit cannabis products, products that have been shown to be unsafe for human health, a more holistic approach must be taken to successfully combat the steady flow of illicit market product.”

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