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Crackdown on illegal marijuana shops expands, as Manhattan DA teams with Mayor Adams

Crackdown on illegal marijuana shops expands, as Manhattan DA teams with Mayor Adams

Mayor Eric Adams is teaming with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to crack down on illegal cannabis shops by using some new tactics.

The city is seeking to leverage a little-used provision of New York’s Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law to get building landlords to evict store owners who sell marijuana without a license.

If the landlords do not take action, the NYC Sheriff’s Office will have the authority to take over the eviction proceedings.

The city has also filed four public nuisance complaints against East Village establishments that it alleges are selling marijuana products without a license — including to minors. Adams, Bragg and law enforcement announced the effort at a press conference on the Upper West Side Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials discussed this strategy at a City Council hearing on unlicensed cannabis shops last month. At the time, Sheriff Anthony Miranda made it clear to council members eager to eradicate the illegal pot shops that this tactic was unlikely to lead to stores being shut down right away.

“Nuisance abatement takes a little while because the person has to have due process,” Miranda said at that hearing.

An employee of the smoke shop on 736 Broadway said he has tried to obtain a cannabis license for over a year

Jake Offenhartz

The sheriff is leading the multi-agency taskforce Adams convened in December to address the recent explosion of stores selling marijuana without a license. The NYPD has counted more than 1,300 of these shops across the five boroughs.

The lawsuits, filed Tuesday by the city, targeted unlicensed cannabis shops located in lower Manhattan, the area where the state’s first two legal dispensaries recently opened their doors.

More small businesses are in the crosshairs: Bragg’s office has sent out 400 warning letters to other smoke shops around Manhattan, city officials said.

Inside one of the shops named in the new lawsuits, employees continued slinging products on Tuesday morning, apparently unfazed by the city’s latest threat. Known as Broadway, the store sits one block south of the city’s first legal dispensary, which is operated by Housing Works.

An employee at Broadway said he frequently served customers who had attempted to buy cannabis from Housing Works, but they complained of long lines or a shortage of offerings.

NYC sheriff raids an illegal smoke shop in Whitestone, Queens on Jan. 24, 2023, according to a Twitter post by City Councilmember Vickie Paladino

Vickie Paladino via Twitter

“They send their customers here to buy lighters, papers, pens. They’re not fully prepared,” said the employee, who declined to give his name for fear of further angering the city law enforcement. “You cannot close 2,000 smoke shops for that one store.”

While the store had applied for a cannabis license nearly a year ago, the employee said they had largely given up hope of receiving official permission to operate. The state’s early batch of licenses are being reserved for people with past marijuana convictions or their family members.

“They play games with us,” he said. “Why not just give out the licenses and make money fast?”

Saint Marks Convenience has received a public nuisance complaint for allegedly selling marijuana without a license.

Jake Offenhartz

Another of the complaints names as defendants the owners of the property that houses Saint Mark’s Convenience and Smoke Shop. It states that on three separate occasions in December, an underage auxiliary police officer bought marijuana from the store. Each time, the officer went undercover in plainclothes, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit cites the city’s Nuisance Abatement Law and states all property related to the nuisance — that is, unlicensed pot sales — should be seized from the premises, and the landlords should be fined $1,000 for every day they allowed the nuisance to continue.

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