By Ed Hersh
The Upper West Side Coalition of Block Associations and Community Groups held a virtual meeting Wednesday night with representatives of the New York State Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to learn more about where legal marijuana dispensaries might be located, how community groups like theirs might be involved, and any enforcement actions that are currently being taken against the “smoke shops” and “weed trucks” that are selling marijuana illegally on the Upper West Side, as recently reported in West Side Rag.
“How should and could block associations engage on this issue?” Coalition President Steve Anderson asked at the outset of the meeting. But beyond what has been previously reported, the government representatives provided few specifics on a timeline for the regulations that will govern legal dispensaries, or the formal process for community input beyond emails and letters, or any enforcement actions that are being or will be taken.
Pascale Bernard, deputy director of inter-governmental relations, and Philip Rumsey, manager of inter-governmental outreach, represented the OCM. Rumsey gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation on how last year’s Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act (MRTA) operates. The law, he said, is “geared toward social justice, economic development and public safety.”
Bernard said the regulations for the legal dispensaries are still being written and therefore, licenses for them aren’t even being considered yet. She wouldn’t give a timeline for the regulations to be finished, but said the first legal dispensaries in the state could open before the end of 2022.
Rumsey added that “one of the elements found in the legislation is notification” to municipalities. “And community boards are part of that process”; they can write letters supporting or opposing applicants for dispensary licenses.
Of course, the legal dispensaries have yet to open, and so, stores currently selling cannabis products above a certain level of potency are illegal. As we reported, those stores are proliferating on the UWS. Coalition Secretary Liz DeVito relayed a question that WSR submitted in advance: “What is being done to deal with this spread of illegal pot shops, beyond sending them a letter, and when the legal stores finally arrive, what mechanisms are in place to actually close the illegal ones down?”
Justin Tatham, an Assistant District Attorney, said “we’re going prosecute those selling marijuana (illegally) when the regulations go into effect” and work with the NYPD. But when asked about current illegal sales, his answer was vague, saying he wasn’t aware of any current investigations, but that “we have no policy that is directed toward not prosecuting” the stores.
Steve Anderson of the coalition jumped in. “We all see what is happening on the Upper West Side. We see that there are trucks and retail selling is going on right now,” he said. “We’re not seeing any significant enforcement” and wondered if they are not being investigated by the NYPD because the DA’s office has made clear they won’t be prosecuted. “We need to know where we stand,” he said.
Estelle Strykers-Santiago of the District Attorney’s office responded to Anderson, but offered no further specifics, other than “we’re coordinating with all the different precincts as well as bringing the special narcotics prosecutor’s office to coordinate with us. The DA knows Justin and I are on this call,” she said, and “we are going to bring this information (about illegal sales) back to him and see if we can follow up with you on strategies that we can talk about.”
You can learn more about the MRTA law and offer comments on the regulations on their website.