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Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg have declared a new initiative to smoke out New York’s 1,400 unlicensed cannabis shops — and many of Hell’s Kitchen’s 38 dispensaries will be in their sights.
Mayor Adams and DA Bragg along with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, City Council Members Gale Brewer and Erik Bottcher announced the new push at a press conference today (Tuesday), the same day that the DA’s office mailed more than 400 letters to known gray-market smoke shops, warning them that the city was prepared to use the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law to force landlords to evict tenants conducting illegal business. Should landlords fail to evict smoke shops within five days of the written notice, the DA’s office will begin eviction proceedings directly against the tenants.
Mayor Adams’ enforcement task force has previously faced criticism for its effectiveness — in November 2022 the group inspected and cited 53 illegal cannabis shops, fewer than 10 percent of the 1,400 citywide, only following up with two of the violators. Both were found to have continued to sell cannabis without interruption.
On the West Side, W42ST surveyed the neighborhood’s own illegal cannabis retail landscape as part of this publication’s ongoing audit of empty storefronts (undertaken by Catie Savage with the support of a grant from the West Side Community Fund). Hell’s Kitchen is home to at least 38 smoke shops like “Shaky Eyes Smoke”, “Green Light District” and “Hells Kitchen Clouds”, none of which currently hold one of the city’s legal cannabis dispensary licenses but have attracted many complaints from local residents over late-night activity and neon signage. Notably, some stores like Smoke Shop (829 9th Ave) and Midtown Convenience Store (454 9th Ave) and others are legally licensed for tobacco. One Hell’s Kitchen grey market cannabis shop, Smoke City on 9th Avenue between W48/W49th Street was recently the site of a shooting when a worker was assaulted by a group of men who wouldn’t leave the store.
Fellow Council Member Gale Brewer, who has long led the charge against illegal dispensaries, announced that she supported the initiative. “I’m a true believer, as everyone here is, in making sure that the legal shops that have gone through the state process have a chance of making it,” said Brewer, adding that she had conducted her own investigative survey of illicit stores on the Upper West Side. “I go into a smoke shop around midnight on 86th Street,” Brewer recounted. “There’s a woman sitting there with her friend and I’m like, ‘What in hell’s name am I gonna say?’ Because I don’t know what to say. So I said, ‘My bones hurt’, ’cause you know, I’m old. And she said, ‘what do you need?’ I knew that meant there was something under the counter.”
Legislators at the press conference emphasized the newly announced enforcement was to support legal, licensed shops and the justice-affected proprietors given first priority to open, as well as to protect the public from unregulated, potentially harmful product.
“Black and Brown communities were the brunt of marijuana enforcement — it unfairly criminalized young people, drove up incarceration and failed to make our community safe. I personally saw the impact of that growing up in Harlem, and we do not want to go back to those days,” said DA Alvin Bragg. “But just as the end of alcohol Prohibition in the 1930s didn’t mean just anyone could start selling homemade bathtub gin to their local store, marijuana legalization in New York came with rules, and those rules must be respected.”
Mayor Adams echoed DA Bragg’s sentiments, saying that he didn’t want to see the progress of legalization “go up in smoke because people want to emerge in an illegal market, especially when so many of them are selling unlawful and unlicensed products that could seriously harm consumers.” Adams repeatedly referenced the risk of unlicensed shops marketing cannabis products to underage users. Licensed shops have strict rules around banning “kid-friendly” packaging.
“If you’re selling [cannabis] to minors or anyone else, this is a real issue that we are zeroing in on and we’re not going to stand by while illegal outlets sell drugs and vapes to our children, while simultaneously undermining an emerging industry that can provide jobs and justice for adults,” said Adams.
Council Member Erik Bottcher, who attended Thursday’s press conference, added in a statement, “Minors shouldn’t have easy access to smoke products of any kind, and more needs to be done to stop unscrupulous businesses from selling to them. We hope this is the beginning of more serious enforcement against illegal smoke shops.”
For New York’s small-business supporters, the enforcement can’t arrive soon enough. Chris LaCass, one of the organizers of Save Our Storefronts, a New York-based small business advocacy group, said the group supported getting unregulated shops out as a pathway for legal, licensed dispensaries.
“Legalized cannabis stores in NYC represent a small correction to the great harm communities of color have experienced due to systemic racism,” wrote LaCass. “They operate under rules that protect neighborhoods, consumers, and young people. Illegal cannabis stores have been a blight on our neighborhoods that have driven small business rents up and displaced legitimate storefront businesses, driven customers away from neighboring storefronts, and used marketing materials to target young people. They sell untested products making it impossible to know if fentanyl or other common adulterants of street drugs are present. Their departure from our neighborhoods is a win for small businesses and for consumers.”
If there is really a move to close cannabis stores, government should get moving to establish legal, licensed stores. I understand as of now, there are only two licensed shops in the city.
I can’t believe I’m saying it but finally Alvin Bragg is doing something right.
Brilliant work. Thanks so much. Allowing illegal smoke shops to prosper encourages other illegal activity — as noted, the shooting last week in front of the smoke shop on 9th, 48/49th. Any question about they are targeting kids should check out “Lunchbox Exotics” 9th, 47/48.
+1 on the work. The city must take swift action to close them quickly. It was a mistake to allow them to setup shop in the first place. Sadly, employees will lose jobs but they and their owners rolled the dice.
There are just going to have to be more than 2 stores in the entire state. Cuomo and then Hochul slow-walked legalization and created the mess. And another thin, I like seeing these stores more than I like seeing an empty storefront.
Leave the stores. Issues the licenses. Monitor sales. Rake in the dough. It’s been a slow process in other states, roughly it takes two years. Look at the success that Arizona, Michigan and Massachusetts had in the roll out after legalizing. New York passed it in April of 2021. Perhaps these stores should have not been so eager to open before they got the correct license, but I assume many took advantage of empty store fronts and lower rents since covid. They call themselves “tobacco shops” for now. Real dispensaries in other states are so much more advanced and have excellent security. Take note NY. We are not Amsterdam yet. And let’s hurry this up! More swift licenses please.
Thanks to all of the authorities for jumping on this and “nipping it in the bud”, and thanks to W42ST.nyc for publishing this excellent story and the great map! Shame on the unscrupulous landlords who stooped to the level of letting these stores into their spaces.
At a glance, I know a few are within a block of Park West Campus (high school). Our children are being targeted. There’s one a block away from the high school on 44th St. All are in the direction that these kids walk towards to commute home.
Dumb idea. Empty stores. No foot traffic. Is that what u want? Blocks and blocks of emptyness
The first smoke shop has been there for years, they dont sell weed there.
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