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Office of Cannabis Management responds to pressure, steps up enforcement of illegal vendors

Dec. 15, 2023 By Anthony Medina

Queens legislators have taken decisive action to combat the sale of illegal cannabis products this year, and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management reports that it has taken steps to combat the issue in the wake of the pressure. 

The OCM, which issues licenses as well as enforces cannabis laws, said that it has targeted unlicensed cannabis shops across the state, and has seized more than $50 million worth of illicit cannabis year to date, according to data released on Monday, Dec. 4.  The agency said that it also stepped up its inspections in November, although not to a level critics would want.

OCM investigators, aided by the Department of Taxation and Finance and other authorities, reports that it had inspected statewide 71 shops, including 13 that were re-inspected, in November, according to a monthly update. In conducting the inspections, 812 pounds of flower, 701 pounds of edibles, and 61 pounds of concentrate, all together with an estimated value of $7,284,986, were seized as a result of the inspections.

The inspections follow calls from Queens officials as well as others across the state calling for enforcement. Queens lawmakers, such as Council Members Lynn Schulman and Joann Ariola, have also sponsored legislation that aims to clamp down on illegal shops. Their legislation, which was passed in July, hits landlords with hefty fines if they knowingly rent storefronts to smoke shops selling cannabis without a license.  

Council Member Robert Holden, representing the neighborhoods of Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, has also sponsored legislation this year to punish smoke shops caught illegally selling cannabis products. He introduced a bill, which remains in committee, that would allow the Commissioner of Consumer and Worker Protection to terminate a store’s tobacco dealer license if it has a record of illegally selling cannabis.

The issue of storefronts selling cannabis illegally has led to heated debate in Holden’s district, with local civic groups and Community Board 5 voicing their opposition to the plethora of illegal cannabis vendors that have popped up in the area.

The Queens District Attorney’s office has also chimed in on illegal cannabis sales and smoke shops this year with law enforcement action. The Queens DA’s office announced the takedown of three illegal cannabis dispensaries in May, with the arrest of five individuals from across the borough and Long Island who were allegedly operating the illegal marijuana shops.

According to OCM, fines for the illegal sale of cannabis start at $10,000 and increase to $20,000 depending on the level of illegality. Currently, it is illegal to sell cannabis and cannabis products without a license.

“As we look ahead to this next chapter in New York’s cannabis market, we continue to prioritize safety across the state by working diligently to shut down illegal operators,” said Chris Alexander, Executive Director of OCM. “The number one remedy for the problem of these illicit shops is getting more legal businesses open.” 

New York State currently has 27 licensed adult-use cannabis dispensaries and has approved 44 Cannabis Growers Showcases, according to OCM. All regulated, licensed dispensaries must post the Dispensary Verification Tool sticker near their main entrance. Any store selling cannabis that does not display this sticker is operating without a license and therefore illegally selling cannabis products.

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