State Assembly Member and Senator Take Aim at Illegal Marijuana Stores
Two elected officials representing Lower Manhattan are pushing back against the rising tide of illegal storefront cannabis dealerships. Assembly member Grace Lee and State Senator Brian Kavanagh announced Thursday a new initiative that seeks to put commercial landlords on notice about their possible legal and financial liability for leasing premises to any operation selling marijuana without a license.
There are currently only six legally authorized dispensaries in all of Manhattan, according to data from the State’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which regulates the emerging industry. But there are perhaps 100 times that number of illegal, unlicensed establishments plying the same trade throughout the borough. Although precise data are scarce, there appear to be as many as 50 of these within the borders of Community Board 1 (CB1). And none of the six shops legally authorized to sell cannabis products is within CB1, according to OCM.
One possible enforcement tool is that laws at both the City and State levels prohibit landlords from knowingly leasing to illegal smoke shops, and subject them to penalties that include escalating fines and possible eviction, even without the cooperation or consent of the landlord.
“When New York’s legislature set out to legalize cannabis, the goal was to create a safe, regulated industry that uplifts individuals who were disproportionately harmed by its criminalization,” Ms. Lee said. “The proliferation of illegal, unlicensed stores in our community has undermined this goal. It has crowded out legal applicants and brought dangerous products and activities to our neighborhoods. Landlords are legally responsible for preventing illegal conduct on their property. We are working to eliminate illegal cannabis stores as part of our larger effort to keep Lower Manhattan safe.”
“The legalization of cannabis marked a monumental leap forward in our pursuit of equity and justice,” Mr. Kavanagh said. “However, it is imperative that we do not regress by allowing illegal smoke shops to dominate this emerging market. These illicit establishments not only jeopardize public health and safety by offering untested and unregulated products, but they also deceive the public by presenting their businesses and products as licensed and authorized, when they are not.”
“The closure of these operations is not only necessary, but also an essential step towards realizing the full potential of New York’s legal cannabis market,” he said. “We will not allow these shops to continue to threaten the public health and safety of this community.”
The initiative by Ms. Lee and Mr. Kavanagh aims to work in tandem with a push by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, which will seek eviction of unlicensed marijuana dealers.
Under New York’s Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, prosecutors can notify landlords whose commercial tenants are engaged in “illegal trade or business,” and demand that the building owners commence proceedings to dispossess the shops. If a landlord does not make an application to evict within five days of the written notice—or if, after making the application, the landlord does not “in good faith diligently prosecute it”—the District Attorney’s office is legally authorized to bring its own proceeding eviction against the tenant as though it were the landlord.