City and State Continue to Combat Illegal Smoke Shops, Reform Cannabis Sales in New York

NYPD officers working on a crackdown of illegal smoke shops as part of the city’s new enforcement powers granted in the state’s new budget. Image Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

Last week, Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams made announcements furthering New York’s fight against illegal smoke shops and reforming cannabis sales. The legalization of cannabis has forced the city and state to navigate the development of a new economy with the implementation of strict regulations; the state rollout of licenses and process for siting new dispensaries have limited the number of legal dispensaries that have opened statewide. While the state continues to navigate these new systems, hundreds of illegal smoke shops have opened citywide to meet the demand for cannabis, but these products are unregulated. 

On May 10, 2024, Governor Hochul announced multiple changes to the Office of Cannabis Management. The changes include fixing the internal licensing process and clearing the backlog of retail establishments applying for site control; launching a new Office of Cannabis Management map for transparency surrounding licensed locations that will be available later this summer; increased staffing on licensing, compliance and enforcement teams; launching an enforcement task force to close illegal shops; and committing to put a service-level agreement in place to allow for completion of retail license applications within 90 days for future applications. A five-year strategic plan will also be created for the office, and new communication tools like regulatory bulletins and public dashboards will be implemented to help enhance customer service and transparency. 

In addition, the state will create a new program to give financial support to conditional adult-use retail dispensaries (CAURDs) which are the first retail dispensaries for legal adult-use cannabis sales in the state. CAURDs are operated by justice-involved individuals, people who have been convicted or closely related to someone who has been convicted of marijuana related offenses in New York prior to March 2021. CAURD applicants have had to deal with a strict application process, litigation delays, and other hurdles to open their businesses; to provide additional financial support in response to these delays, Empire State Development will have a $5 million pool of finding for CAURDs to receive micro-grants to reimburse for certain initial costs. 

Governor Hochul stated, “We promised to build the strongest, most equitable legal cannabis market in the nation, and we’re announcing long-needed steps to make New York’s cannabis program work as promised.”

At the city level, city officials have continued to deal with the ongoing issue of illegal smoke shops. Last year, the City Council passed legislation to hold landlords accountable for knowingly leasing their commercial spaces for unlicensed smoke shops. Mayor Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg also announced initiatives to file complaints against certain smoke shops for creating a public nuisance and violating state cannabis laws and a mailing campaign to contact commercial landlords to inform them that the city intended to use the Real Property Law to require landlords to evict commercial tenants engaging in illegal business activity. The New York City Sheriff’s Office and the New York Police Department have also been working to seize illegal cannabis sold at smoke shops around the city, and a task force imposed $108 million in penalties and conducted over 2,100 compliance and intelligence inspections. 

On May 7, 2024, Mayor Adams announced an expansion of the crackdown on smoke shops, launching “Operation Padlock to Protect.” As part of last month’s state budget negotiations, municipalities were given more enforcement power to inspect and padlock illegal smoke shops. The operation will accelerate over the coming weeks to shut down illegal shops citywide. 

Mayor Adams stated, “Today, our administration is delivering on a promise to shut down unlicensed smoke and cannabis shops, protect our young people, and ensure that the future of legal cannabis burns bright in New York City. Thanks to Governor Kathy Hochul and our partners in the state Legislature, New York City is now using the full force of the law across every borough to padlock and protect our streets. Legal cannabis remains the right choice for our city, but to those who choose to break the law — we will shut you down.”  

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the Editor of CityLand and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)



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