By Ed Hersh
A parade of city and state officials spoke at a Cannabis Town Hall on the Upper West Side Tuesday night to explain how the state’s 2021 law legalizing marijuana is being rolled out – and to answer the community’s questions about what many perceive is a lack of enforcement.
“We want to make sense of a nuanced and complex policy,” said State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who organized the town hall with City Council Member Gale Brewer.
To do that, the two lawmakers invited representatives from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Community Board 7, several city agencies, the New York Police Department, the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, and a drug policy reform group. Each was asked to provide updates on the rollout of legalized marijuana, to an audience of about 40 at John Jay College. Another 70 people joined the meeting online.
The first part of the meeting examined the social equity rationale written into the 2021 law, which gives priority for licenses to sell marijuana to nonprofit organizations dedicated to social justice, and to people arrested in the past for minor marijuana crimes. Melissa Moore of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, told the town hall session that “from 1977 to 2019, there were 800,000 arrests for low-level marijuana offenses,” with an overwhelming majority of them people of color.
The second half of the discussion focused on enforcement, an issue highlighted Monday when Brewer’s office released a report alleging that at least 26 Upper West Side businesses are selling cannabis products illegally.
City and state officials were quizzed by Rosenthal, Brewer, and the audience about the complicated and long-delayed process of establishing a network of legal cannabis dispensaries. Brewer pointed out that the state has approved only four licensees for legal marijuana dispensaries in Manhattan. None of them have opened yet, but meanwhile, Brewer’s survey of smoke shops, delis, and bodegas found numerous examples of stores selling products without a license.
“The unfettered proliferation of smoke shops is a problem,” Rosenthal said.
Community Board 7 Vice-Chair Doug Kleiman noted that in addition to concerns about proximity to schools and religious institutions and recent revelations about tainted marijuana, those who sell illegally are not paying license fees or taxes on their sales. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are going through our fingers,” said Kleiman, and if illegal sales aren’t stopped, others may be discouraged from applying for licenses to sell legally. Brewer wants to encourage more efforts by the NYC Sheriff’s Office, part of the city’s Department of Finance, which has stepped up its own enforcement recently, raiding some smoke shops to seize cigarettes and cannabis products that they were not licensed to sell.
“All of this stuff is illegal if you don’t have a license,” said Tahlil McGough, an official in the state’s year-old Office of Cannabis Management. “We’re talking about closing down storefronts and seizing trucks,” McGough said. However, he said his new agency has yet to fully build an enforcement staff and work out procedures for working with existing law enforcement. The office’s main enforcement action to date has been sending cease-and-desist letters to several dozen smoke shops across the state; McGough said that while increased scrutiny was underway, he could not provide specific examples of any other enforcement actions. “It may appear that we are not doing anything, but that is not the case,” he said. “We have to go do a lot of back work to close these things down.”
McGough did urge those in attendance to report illegal sales to local officials — including officeholders such as Brewer and Rosenthal; the district attorney; and the police. He also recommended calling 311, which he said would refer complaints to his state Office of Cannabis Management. McGough did not have a specific answer when asked by the Rag how citizens could complain directly to the office’s enforcement division.
State officials also said they did not yet have a plan for giving local community boards a say in where the new legal dispensaries can locate. The marijuana law calls for community involvement in deciding those locations.
After the meeting, Rosenthal said she was upbeat about the town hall and would like to host another in the future. “It was a great opportunity for people to hear the facts about the [new marijuana law] and it cleared up a lot of misconceptions.” Despite the lack of specifics from the state, she said she remains optimistic. “Clearly, they’re getting things together. I think we will see some results very soon…I think they’re getting there.”
It is sold , illegally, on west 72nd street.
Quite open to the public.
No questions asked.
Do they only come out at night?? I’ve never seen any open drug sales on West 72nd.
Oh yes, let’s close down more storefronts!
Yes Bill. That’s absolutely correct. Let’s close down storefronts that are selling narcotics illegally. The reason for licenses is to ensure the safety of the product and that it’s being sold in a responsible manner to individuals who are legally permitted to purchase it. I am quite certain that you would object to a storefront without a liquor license selling bourbon. What’s the difference here?
The very obvious difference is that there’s no legal way right now to sell marijuana even though it’s legal. And people have been buying the stuff under the table for decades now without the safety of the product being an issue. The way things are now is better. Your view is very simplistic.
Adam, marijuana isn’t a narcotic.
Alcohol and tobacco aren’t either but there are laws about regulation for the safety of all. And even legal drugs from pharmacies are regulated. Once again, we are in an all or nothing argument. We need to find common sense solutions.
Thank you Adam.
You put it in the simplest and most understandable words.
You read this Bill? Please do.
Need to open LEGAL stores now. Would solve a lot of problems.
At the town hall pretty much all participants understood weed was already legal, they just want to make sure that the regulatory layout is being implemented quickly to stop the proliferation of illegal weed. But instead OCM blames Cuomo. We’ve had a new governor for over a year now. There were frustrated and angry constituents there.
It sounds like they created a legal process so complex, encumbered and slow to roll out, there are two likely outcomes-
A) The legal stores will become a sort of oligopoly of high-price/low-quality retailers run by agents of the state (like liquor stores in PA).
B) The process will be so convoluted that the market will shift entirely to unlicensed sellers as it has been for decades. The only difference is there will be no enforcement because of some social justice excuse and the fact that the product is basically decriminalized.
It would have been better just to legalize it broadly with clear restrictions (eg never in apartments, public transit, etc). The state is creating a bureaucracy that is trying to administer a jobs program. And I’m not sure it’s designed or capable of actually improving quality of life or quality of weed.
What will happen, is what is happening in Oregon and Mass. They’ve made the bureaucracy too much of a hinderance to the free market, and taxed the hell out of everything that it’s easier and less expensive to go back to buying it on the street.
I’m hoping for a third scenario.
The regulated shops will open and consumers that want a tested product will pay a premium.
50% or more of the tacky neon shops with crappy junk food, paraphernalia and dubious products will close from lack of business.
All the pearl wearing, handbag clutching nimbys will calm down and let the police focus on real problems.
I disagree that “legalizing broadly” is the solution. First, since weed is still illegal on the Federal level there are ongoing issues with the logistics of selling weed legally including how to handle cash, pay taxes and provide security to a cash-only business. You cannot transport weed from a state where it’s legal to another state where it’s still illegal. Until weed is legalized nationally those issues will be constant.
Second, State/local oversight if done properly, is a clear benefit I don’t consume, but I want my friends and family who partake to only ingest pure weed that has been screened for harmful substances. We’ve all seen recent headlines for various illegal drugs that have either been contaminated with harmful substances or are not what they appear to be. Weed CAN be tested for purity, ingredient levels and other attributes so you get what you pay for in a legal dispensary. Would you buy bootleg liquor in this day and age?
In nearby Massachusetts they even allow residents to grow up to 6 plants at home for personal use. I suppose that would be a way to encourage everyone to learn about home farming and save some money. I’m only partially joking.
I agree that the proliferation of illegal weed shops will impact the ability of legal shops to sell product and generate tax revenue which the city desperately needs.
“We’ve all seen recent headlines for various illegal drugs that have either been contaminated with harmful substances or are not what they appear to be. ”
Yes, we can really do without some 18-year-old buying weed from one of these stores and getting an unexpected side order of fentanyl.
The proliferation of the illegal stores/trucks started many months ago, sad to see that the cannabis agency “has yet to fully build an enforcement staff and work out procedures for working with existing law enforcement” and has only sent out cease and desist letters.
It looks like New York County is doing the right thing by trying to hold the cannabis agency accountable but it would be great if cannabis agency officials were forced to sit through a public meeting such as this one in every single county in the state until some real enforcement is implemented.
So this is an interesting aspect to the problem with the illegal stores open now. As you know there are many stores selling illegally now and they can’t be shut down. According to the NYPD Commander who attended the meeting, it is not illegal for the current stores to have and display the pot.
Here’s the tricky part though, it is illegal for the stores to sell the pot but there is no way to punish them if they do. If you bought some pot from one of the illegal stores and walked into the police station with the evidence of wrong doing there is nothing the police can do about it. Unless a police officer actually witnesses the sale with their own two eyes they are powerless to act and even then the Assistant District Attorney present at the meeting said that his office is out of the cannabis business and they simply will have nothing to do with cannabis cases.
The only thing you can do to the current stores is try to harass them out of business with fines for improper signage or health code violations or go after them for tax issues. Maybe even harass the landlords enough to toss them out but that’s difficult.
Eventually competition will force stores to start to close, probably sooner than later. (The rent is too damn high.) The market will find it’s own level, even illegal markets are subject to market forces. Also don’t forget that when Amazon or some giant national online pharmacy starts selling pot online the downward price pressure will force many legal outlets to close too.
Tahlil McGough sounds pretty useless. At least he showed up.
I attended this mtg. Very disappointed as it wasn’t a town hall. We spent 1.5 hours listening to an explanation of the law and reasons behind weed being legalized. We know this already. Residents wanted to hear about these unregulated businesses all over the UWS, what are they selling, to whom and how to report the illegal shops.
Instead hours of slides and lectures on equity.
Linda Rosenthal is particularly disappointing as she said “contact my office if you see something” yet on the street where here office is located there are several of the businesses in question. 8 doors down, the newsstand openly sells vaping cartridges to teens. She can pretend she doesn’t know, but there’s zero chance of this being truthful.
Sadly we were told NYPD and 311 will refer to OCM. OCM said they’re understaffed and incapable of handling the rogue shops.
Residents aren’t against legal shops
LR & GB allowed the mtg to be 95% speakers w only a few resident input. Felt purposeful as OCM has 58 slides in his presentation. They knew there wouldn’t be time to hear community concerns.
There’s no way to identify rogue shops and no way for us to shut them down.
Shameful waste of our time, thinking we’d be heard in a Town Hall.
When a speaker tried to call out Assemblywoman Rosenthal on not taking more questions, the Assemblywoman seemed annoyed. They only want hand picked members from West Side Dems engaged in the community, not the whole community.
That speaker was me. I’m the one who walked out when Rosenthal declared the mtg over.
I saw that. Nobody in any of the local Democratic clubs has the guts you have to speak out. They’re too busy worshipping Gale Brewer, Jerry Nadler and the classical liberal icons of Manhattan.
“911, what’s the emergency?”
“I just hired a plumber who I think isn’t properly licensed to do the work!!”
“Ok, did he break your plumbing or cause water damage?”
“no, he did an excellent job”
“Did he steal anything in your home, or overcharge you?”
“no, he was very polite, wiped his feet and was one of the cheapest quotes I could find”
“so what exactly is your problem?”
“Well… it could have been really bad and I want him arrested”
The smoke stores are selling unregulated weed and you don’t necessarily know what’s exactly in them or whether they’re safe. But instead you get progressive commenters like this who mock legitimate concerns.
The legal dispensaries will help to solve the problem as Tom suggested. The landlords also need to accept responsibility. Would they turn a blind eye to an unlicensed liquor store or a brothel? The landlords know whats going on they need to be held accountable. Marijuana culture is about breaking the rules just like speakeasy’s during prohibition. The politicians don’t care face it.
why should landlords have to do the police and politician’s work?
Good luck to any landlords getting a court or cops to enforce this on their tenants.
Is it illegal for a citizen to purchase ganja at an illegal store? I’m a semi-retired lawyer and I still don’t know….
All I know is that I am tired of having to smell it everywhere, and of having edibles or other weed-laced items left behind on the ground where dogs and children can (and do) find them. I don’t mind people doing anything in their own homes, but the public areas of the city are literally going to pot.
Tobacco vs cannabis = tie (just as bad) and secondhand smells worse. Per CDC:
“Smoked marijuana, regardless of how it is smoked, can harm lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to small blood vessels. Smoke from marijuana has many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) as tobacco smoke.”
How wonderful to have yet another public health menace to later try to control.