By Ed Hersh
A new survey released today by New York City Council Member Gale Brewer’s office confirms what the West Side Rag first reported in June and what many Upper West Side residents have long observed in the neighborhood: that a growing number of unlicensed “smoke shops” are illegally and openly selling cannabis products – and suffering few, if any, legal consequences.
The report is based on a survey Brewer’s staff conducted, block-by-block, in her council district (which includes most of the Upper West Side, from West 108th Street to West 54th Street). Of 61 bodegas, delis, smoke shops and newsstands surveyed, the staff said that it found at least 26 illicit cannabis retailers; 22 of them were also selling tobacco products without a license.
In March 2021, New York state legalized possession and use of marijuana. The state also promised to establish a legal supply chain of New York State-grown cannabis products and licensed dispensaries that would guarantee safety and quality for customers and tax revenue for the state.
But the regulations needed to implement the program have been very slow in coming. According to Brewer’s office, as of Friday only four retail cannabis licenses have been awarded for all of Manhattan, 36 for all of New York state – and none of those who have received licenses have yet opened for business. In the meantime, the smoke shops have become targets for criminals, as the Rag has reported.
“I am concerned that the free-for-all environment will become entrenched and undermine the law’s intent before the legal market takes shape,” Brewer said in a statement. “There are public health risks such as underage use and contaminated products.”
But, Brewer says, there is no coordinated effort among state and local agencies to enforce the existing laws.
“There is no ambiguity in the law, it’s illegal to sell cannabis without a license, but there’s ambiguity in who should enforce it,” said Brewer, who called on city and state officials to come up with solutions. “The NYPD apparently directed precincts not to enforce cannabis laws, the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection does not have authority over cannabis products, and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management only has authority over already-licensed retailers,” Brewer said in a release accompanying the survey.
The survey comes in advance of a West Side Cannabis Town Hall on Tuesday, December 13 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The event, organized by Brewer and State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, will bring together representatives from the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, police officials, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the city’s Departments of Consumer and Worker Protection and Small Business Services, and Community Boards 4 and 7. You can register here to attend in person or by zoom. The college is located at 524 W. 59th St. (between 10th and 11th Avenues).
In a letter last week, Brewer urged “city and state officials to consider additional measures to limit these stores, such as revocation of Certificates of Registration, a public information campaign to educate consumers on why buying from licensed sellers matters, and the use of public nuisance laws to hold knowing landlords accountable.”
This is ridiculous! NYS made it legal to possess and smoke pot, but aren’t giving out licenses to sell it. Rather than putting her time into trying to get NYPD to enforce laws, how about she spend her time trying to get the state legislature to do its job.
It’s so ironic that the stated intent seems to be a way to create legal business opportunities for those who may have been deemed to be treated unjustly under the law. But it was rolled out in ways that encourages law breaking. The funny thing, it’s not like NYC is inventing the wheel. Other states preceeded us in their rollout. Why is NYC so special and unique? Chaos is by design and because there is profit to be had.
Good going Gale Brewer! On the street data , a clear statement about the policy problem – lack of clear enforcement policy – recommendations that can educate the public and bring available pressure to bear on the problem, and an opportunity to bring all the responsible parties to the table.
No one wants to touch this, because there is money being made. But there is also trouble being caused. Will be interesting to see how police, DA, small business folks and landlords ALL respond. Everyone has way too much incentive to point fingers and do
At least the press has had some stories showing how NJ has managed their roll-out better. And stories from ERS and EMTs and etc are helping with the public education aspect a bit. Comparative Info about other roll outs could be helpful here.
Good to see stepping up from Community Board supporters, parents, public health folks….we don’t actually have to suffer this “market gap” by law . But post pandemic ways to grow businesses, get rent etc are scarce and perceived “low harm” crime is not gonna be prosecuted, so every hustle will happen.
Tough situation. Thanks for the coverage WSR.
It is not clear whether these unlicensed sales are mostly CBD (which does not give a “high”) or THC (which does). CBD, which has a relaxing effect for many people, has long been available in various forms through the mail.
If alleged killers, robbers, and other criminals are set free to be back on the streets, why should the police, or any other law enforcement agency be concerned if weed & cigarettes are sold illegally?
Because they are paid handsomely to do so. If they don’t want to do their jobs, then they are free to go into the real world, where infinite overtime, pensions, and unions aren’t a thing. Do you get to just opt out of working, but keep collecting your salary, if you don’t approve of what your boss does with your work product?
It’s called prioritizing with the limited resources they have due to officers not signing up any and officers retiring. The laws are also so unclear as there are hardly any for marijuana but there are rapes, burglaries and assaults going on. I’d rather them focus on that with the limited resources. They risk their lives every day and SHOULD be paid handsomely to do it. If my life was on the line, I would want to be paid handsomely. Wouldn’t you? How about when you risk your life, you can just be paid the same as any other worker out there and hope you won’t complain.
So, it’s a mess. Didn’t anyone – Brewer, Rosenthal – see this coming? Why does it seem so difficult to enforce the law.? Why is the police dept. stepping aside? whew. The streets are alive with the smell of pot (paraphrasing sound of music ).
You said what I’m thinking. Like, you could see this coming for a year and yet we’ve got one of the biggest fumbles I’ve ever seen! I almost admire the businesses just going full on #yolo with sales, and I am baffled how there was no infrastructure in place for licensing. Almost feels like someone needs to do a Fyre-fest style documentary on how we ended up here.
This happened because the elected officials were in a rush to get votes for the sound byte – “legalize marijuana!” Did they stop and create a process? NO. They got the votes they wanted and dropped the ball and didn’t care what happened. Now we are stuck with the ramifications, illegally selling to minors, pot smelling everywhere because now it’s “legal” to use. No rules, no laws in place – done only for the votes. Well done.
Given all the problems in this city, & on the UWS selling pot should not even be on the radar! Unlike tobacco pot is not harmful! Unlike alcohol pot is not addictive.
40+ years ago I was an u see age buyer user of pot on the UWS, the village, Peter cooper, etc., it did not stop me from getting into Bronx Science or earning honors there or going to a Seven Sisters College or graduating with honors from there or going to a top tier law school, etc., etc.
Get your priorities straight, Gale Brewer!
Not addictive? Check out the National Institute of Health data.
Around 40 years ago, two friends of mine and a cousin were healthy, smart, talented teenagers who began using pot. This opened the door to a lot of other, much more hard-core drugs, and all three ended up addicts, homeless, mentally-ill, with seriously damaged bodies. Another cousin started off with pot, ended up a life long addict on hard-core drugs, and finally killed himself. Don’t pretend these stories are unusual. Pot is the most common gateway drug and teenagers going through a lot of emotional ups and downs are very vulnerable.
I think Gale Brewer’s priorities are just fine and could stand to be a lot more aggressive about drugs in this city.
I am truly sorry for what happened to your friends and cousins. I’m just curious if you feel the same way about alcohol?
As well as being a proven gateway drug, pot shops brought crime into neighborhoods in California when it was legalized. Due to the immense amount of cash which flow through these shops, they are continually targeted for armed robberies.
Of course many of us would ask just why The Gov’t and its enablers require special licenses to sell pot. Or, for that matter, alcohol.
Oh right, this means an entire group of taxpayer supported agencies and workers,
I blame Alvin Bragg. If the DA was serious about enforcing the law, NYPD would have less ability to do nothing, and these stores which blight the neighborhood would say least have to obey the law.
How exactly would that force NYPD to do their jobs? They clearly have a lot of discretion to choose what laws they enforce.
But in all honesty, is there anything you don’t blame Alvin Bragg for?
Alvin Bragg burned my toast, Alvin Bragg misplaced my keys, Alvin Bragg clogged my sink…
I stubbed my toe this morning. Darn you, Alvin Bragg!
This has been an issue for many years. It’s getting more attention now that marijuana is legal.
Close these places down! This is the last thing we need is more drugs.
It’s fine and Gale is wasting her time. The whole point of legalization was to stop people getting hurt and arrested over pot and far fewer people are getting hurt and arrested with this system that we’re in right now than what we had before. And there’s no alternative, there’s no licensing system in place, so for now this is what we have. Or you can go back to prohibition which doesn’t work at all.
People can buy what they want without bothering anyone else from a place like Jacks Convenience store in a nice safe clean environment with plenty of people around and that was always the intent. It’s just taking the state a long time to catch up with the licensing.
NY is unique cause rather than opening the cannabis market to the same sellers who are dominating the national space, we’re making a serious effort to reserve the first retail licenses for NYers who have been negatively impacted by previous laws. And helping with loans, paperwork, etc. Other states haven’t done this. But NY has an opportunity to do some good here – or at least set a precedent – and I hope we succeed even it takes longer.
Cigarettes have been taxed so much that a black market was created. I can buy cigarettes in NYC with tax stamps from South Carolina. The same will happen with legal weed.
I wish these politicians were even half as concerned with regulating billionaires as they are with regulating these tiny corner smoke shops.
I’m also curious exactly how many of the pearl clutchers in these comments can make it an entire day without popping a Xanax?