New York was attempting to ship a message.
The state permitted marijuana possession final yr, however leisure gross sales of the drug stay unlawful till regulators can arrange enterprise licenses. This course of has been sluggish — with the primary authorized gross sales nonetheless months away. However leisure dispensaries didn’t wish to wait and commenced “gifting” their clients weed with the acquisition of, say, a digital video – exploiting a possible loophole within the state legislation.
So New York’s Workplace of Hashish Administration (OCM) organized a public crackdown in February – full with a press launch touting its efforts – saying it mailed out cease-and-desist letters to what it claimed had been greater than two dozen retailers partaking in unlicensed, illegal gross sales.
Or at the very least that’s what the state company said on the time.
In an e-mail to Gothamist final week, OCM refused to acknowledge whether or not the cease-and-desist letters truly exist.
Rashied McDuffie, the workplace’s deputy common counsel, wrote on Might 2nd that OCM had performed a “diligent search” for the letters after Gothamist filed a Freedom of Data Regulation, or FOIL, request for them in February.
“Based upon this search, OCM does not confirm nor deny the existence of a letter sent by it to any entity,” wrote McDuffie, who went on to say that if the letters do exist, they’d be exempt from public disclosure as a result of they had been “compiled for law enforcement purposes.”
The complicated case of the cease-and-desist letters comes as state officers battle to rein within the authorized grey space of “gifting” marijuana, regardless of threatening to withhold hashish licenses from anybody discovered to interact within the apply. Officers have additionally pledged to impose fines or prison penalties.
However OCM has repeatedly refused to say which companies it despatched the letters to, leaving unanswered questions on what areas of the state have been focused for enforcement and the way profitable or unsuccessful the crackdown effort has been. Gov. Kathy Hochul additionally pledged a brand new period of transparency when she took workplace final August.
Gifting is among the fashions being utilized by gray-market dispensaries in New York Metropolis and different components of the state in latest months. Regardless that dispensary licenses haven’t been issued but, it’s grow to be simpler for purchasers to get THC merchandise from shops since legalization took impact, fairly than relying solely on underground sellers.
In New York Metropolis, the NYPD has made solely 17 arrests for marijuana gross sales because the drug was legalized in March 2021, together with 5 within the first three months of 2022, in accordance with metropolis knowledge. Requested whether or not any of these arrested had been promoting hashish out of a storefront, the NYPD directed Gothamist to file a Freedom of Data Regulation request.
Gothamist filed its formal request for the state’s cease-and-desist letters on February eighth, the identical day OCM issued a press launch and “sample letter” detailing its efforts. The request was made to find out which companies obtained the letters and the place they had been situated, one thing OCM had declined to supply.
Below FOIL, state and native entities are required at hand over public data upon request. However the authorities can maintain issues again underneath sure exemptions, together with when officers consider releasing paperwork might “interfere with law enforcement investigations” or “deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication.”
McDuffie cited that exemption when declining at hand over the letters – “If there were such a letter,” as he put it.
OCM says its resolution to keep away from acknowledging the existence of the stop and desist letters is basically about declining to disclose the letters’ recipients.
In response to questions on McDuffie’s resolution, OCM spokesperson Freeman Klopott said the workplace obtained a lot of completely different FOIL requests for the letters and settled on a uniform response. Some requests, just like the one filed by Gothamist, had been broad, in search of all letters despatched. Different requests had been particular to a selected enterprise, that means that recognizing the existence of the letter “would have inherently implied a specific business was under investigation,” Klopott said in an announcement.