Licensed NYC cannabis operators urge Albany to smoke out illegal weed peddlers

NEWS: Licensed NYC cannabis operators urge Albany to smoke out illegal weed peddlers

They want to smoke them out.

More than 100 operators and supporters of New York City’s licensed cannabis industry urged the state Legislature to approve stiff laws to make it easier for Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to padlock illegal pot peddlers living the high life and deter new ones from opening.

They said their livelihoods depend on it.

The urgent appeal was made in a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heatie (D-Bronx) as they hammer out a new state budget.

Zaza Waza appears locked up after officials instructed the workers to close the illegal shop earlier this month. Robert Miller

Hochul has proposed measures to give Gotham and other local governments more power to shut down illegal shops — so the lobbying effort is aimed at the legislature.

Heastie recently said that pot enforcement is a policy matter that should be dealt with separately, not as part of the state budget.

The pot operators asked for:

  • local authorities to have the power to inspect and shut illegal cannabis shops; 
  • imposed and enforced higher penalties to deter the black market;
  • improved coordination between state and local agencies to bolster enforcement;
  • support for legal stores with public information campaigns that warn of the health risks from buying pot from illegal operators and cutting red tape in issuing licenses.

“We are reaching out to express our deep concerns and support Mayor Eric Adams’s efforts urging immediate legislative action against the proliferation of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries that are severely impacting our businesses and undermining the state’s cannabis regulatory framework,” the letter, drafted by The Cannabis Place CEO Osbert Orduna and signed by reps from the NY Cannabis Retail Association, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, among others.

The cannabis operators said they anticipated a regulated market that ensured equity, safety, quality and fairness, and invested enormous sums into starting their business while abiding by the strict rules, including paying hefty taxes.

An enforcement official places a sign on a shuttered store after it was closed for illegal operations on March 14, 2024. Robert Miller
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heatie attend Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2025 executive state budget presentation in Albany on Jan. 16, 2024. AP
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her 2025 executive state budget in the Red Room of the state Capitol on Jan 16. 2024. AP

“Despite assurances to the contrary, we find ourselves competing against thousands of unlicensed operators who evade these obligations, undercutting our businesses, subverting the social equity tenets of the law, and jeopardizing public health and safety,” they said.

“This not only diminishes the state’s potential tax revenues but also undercuts the very objectives of legalization — to transition the illicit market to a well-regulated and inclusive cannabis industry that ensures product safety and creates lasting, equitable economic opportunities for all.”

They complained illicit shops sell weed products in brightly colored packaging that target kids by looking like candy and other snacks, contrasting with the more generic packaging used by the licensed dispensaries.

A rep for Mayor Adams applauded the push by the city’s legal cannabis industry.

An NYPD officer uses a saw to cut through a padlock at the locked Zaza Waza store on Columbus Ave. in Manhattan on March 14, 2024. Robert Miller

“New Yorkers should be able to walk down the street without being bombarded by dozens of illegal smokeshops that are operating outside the law and putting young New Yorkers at risk,” a City Hall spokesperson said.

“The Adams administration is using every tool available to protect New Yorkers from these illegal smoke shops. But the city doesn’t have the power to inspect and permanently shut down illegal cannabis stores, and the Adams administration — with the support of these licensed cannabis operators and community advocates — will continue to urge our state partners to give us the authority to enforce against, inspect, and close illegal dispensaries more quickly and efficiently.”

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