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Brannan, Gounardes call for crackdown on illegal marijuana dispensaries in midst of legalization ‘purgatory’

Selling adult-use marijuana is now legal, following the passing of the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) by New York State in March 2021 however licenses to sell haven't been administered yet.
New York legalized adult use and sale of recreational marijuana last year, but the state still hasn’t issued any licenses for dispensaries — and local lawmakers want the NYPD to crack down on illegally-operating pot shops.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

Marijuana dispensaries have become a dime a dozen in New York City, and councilmember Justin Brannan and state Senator Andrew Gounardes are calling on New York City Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell to crack down on unlicensed storefronts selling the drug.

In a letter addressed to the commissioner, the pair pointed out though it became legal to sell recreational marijuana after the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act was passed by New York State in March 2021, no official licenses have been issued — meaning all of the shops currently distributing pot around the city are operating unlawfully. 

“It’s pretty clear that some businesses are exploiting this purgatory that we’re in right now where the state hasn’t issued any licenses but stores are selling and some of them are masquerading as dispensaries,” Brannan told Brooklyn Paper.

Brannan brought the situation to NYPD commissioners attention, asking for her to crack down on the illegal storefronts.
Brannan brought the situation to NYPD Commissioner Sewell’s attention, asking for her to crack down on the illegal storefronts. The councilmember worries about the impact unlicensed dispensaries will have on Brooklyn’s economy. William Alatriste/NYC Council.

He and other leaders are concerned for the borough’s economy as it misses out on the tax dollars it could be collecting on legal sales, stating Brooklyn is “gonna be in jeopardy” unless there is an enforced crackdown on these unlicensed shops. 

“The issue we’re having is I don’t know how the state plans to make any money off of these licenses if they’re not going to enforce shutting down places that are selling without a license,” the councilman said. “We just don’t understand why the state isn’t doing anything about it.”

After MRTA was passed, the Office of Cannabis Management was created to regulate all legal use and retail sale of adult-use cannabis. The office is also responsible for handling the necessary licenses for weed shops to operate. No such licenses have been given out yet, said OCM press officer Trivette Knowles.

“There are no legal adult-use cannabis sales right now in the state of New York,” Knowles said. “There are brick and mortar shops that are illicitly selling cannabis [and] we really implore that all these shops selling cannabis right now, specifically these illegal dispensaries claiming to be legal, to stop.”

The office has sent cease and desist letters to the existing smoke shops that they have confirmed to be unlawfully selling marijuana.

“If we sent you a cease and desist letter and you continue to make illegal sales, you are jeopardizing your possibility to get a legal license and that’s not what we want [to happen] at all,” Knowles said. “We want to make sure that New Yorkers when they choose to purchase cannabis, when they choose to do so legally in the next coming months, that they know what is a safe, tested product and that’s where OCM comes into effect.”

Knowles said OCM operates with the goal of creating an equity-driven and inclusive system in the city that both cannabis users and sellers can rely on. A lack of trust could be the reason shops are bypassing government involvement in their business, he said. 

dispensary in bay ridge
A shop in Bay Ridge has begun selling cannabis before receiving the necessary licenses to do so while the state is in a licensing “grey area.”Photo by Jada Camille

One Bay Ridge shop at the corner of 74th Street and 3rd Avenue told Brooklyn Paper they have begun to sell cannabis even though they do not have the official government license to do so because of the logistical “gray area.” 

The Office of Cannabis Management has received 903 retail sale applications and plan to begin issuing 150 approval letters by the end of the year. Until then, they are asking for the shops currently distributing weed to wait until they have authorization. 

“I would hate for the people that we’re fighting for to be missing out on the opportunity [to sell] due to their choices,” Knowles said.

Commissioner Keechant Sewell did not respond to Brooklyn Paper’s request for comment. 

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