After months of letting a black market thrive in New York City, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed legislation Wednesday to tighten sanctions for unlicensed weed dealers and make it simpler to close illegal marijuana shops.
Mayor Eric Adams and the city sheriff claimed that almost 1,500 unauthorized sellers are selling cannabis in brick-and-mortar stores in broad daylight, while only a few state-licensed dealers are open.
One unauthorized cannabis vendor sold weed across from City Hall. On Wednesday, it closed again.
Hochul said, “Over the past several weeks I have been working with the legislature on new legislation to strengthen New York’s cannabis product regulatory regime.
“Illegal dispensaries are abhorrent, and we need additional enforcement powers to protect New Yorkers from harmful products and support equitable initiatives.”
The governor said the new tax and cannabis laws allow the Office of Cannabis Management and the Department of Revenue and Finance to crack down on illicit weed sales for the first time and give local law enforcement broader tools to go after unlicensed storefront operators.
The governor’s plan would grant tax employees peace officer status to bust cannabis dealers and increase punishments for illegal sales.
For selling illegal cannabis plants or items like THC-infused gummy bears, the Office of Cannabis Management can fine businesses $10,000 per day.
Adams complained that illegal cannabis peddlers were fined $250.
The mayor, a retired NYPD captain, was shocked by unlawful peddlers’ packaging for cannabis goods that appealed to children, such as “As Captain Crunch” and “Trix.”
After searches and cannabis seizures, illicit shops reopen, according to City Sheriff Anthony Miranda.
One study found that some pop-up stores offered cannabis contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, heavy metals, and pesticides.
New York legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021 under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Critics claim the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act didn’t do enough to stop a black market before the state’s cannabis program started.
Despite rising concerns, Hochul, who became governor when Cuomo was forced out over sexual misconduct allegations he denies, and Democratic lawmakers did not modify the law last year to prevent the illicit market.
The governor announced her assault on the substandard pot after Assembly Republicans wrote to her earlier Wednesday warning about the illegal market and just days after former city Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged her and the legislature to amend the tangled law that had gone up in flames.
Fewer than 10 state-licensed cannabis outlets have opened. “The state’s delayed and chaotic implementation has predictably left a window for illicit cannabis stores to acquire a foothold and they have grabbed the chance,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Fulton) wrote in the letter signed by more than 30 GOP members.
The expansion of illicit operators presents serious public safety concerns, notably with the increasing access kids now have to THC and cannabis products.
Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), a key cannabis law author, supports Hochul’s plan to curb the illegal pot market but warned “changes will be needed” before it’s filed in the Senate and Assembly.
Her Upper East Side neighborhood has many illicit shops.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) stated Wednesday she has not decided on the gubernatorial proposal.
“I am still evaluating the Governor’s plan and may be able to speak to it by the end of the week,” she said.
Hochul’s law prohibits police from arresting marijuana customers and does not increase penalties for possession or purchase from illegal dealers.
New Yorkers can have 3 ounces of cannabis outside the home and 5 pounds inside.