After arrests at illegal dispensary, Bay Ridge community calls on state to better regulate cannabis sales

cannabis in jar
Bay Ridgeites are calling on the state to amend the marijuana regulation and taxation laws and crack down on illegal dispensaries in Brooklyn.
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With smoke shops popping up in neighborhoods across the city, at least one local panel is formally calling on the state legislature to create clearer language in the current legislation for unlicensed commercial and retail sale of marijuana and other cannabis products.

Adult use and retail sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in March 2021, and, on Monday, the state’s Cannabis Control Board approved its first batch of 36 dispensary licenses in the state. But while 13 licenses were issued for dispensaries in New York City — with some shops expected to open before the end of the year — none were granted in Brooklyn after a federal judge blocked the state from handing out licenses in certain areas. 

Still, many illegal dispensaries have popped up in pockets of Brooklyn — and the issue was a major talking point at Community Board 10’s Nov. 21 general board meeting.

Demanding stronger regulations in a “legal gray area”

District Manager Josephine Beckmann told board members that the group’s Police and Public Safety Committee had formally adopted a resolution asking state leaders to amend the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act and allow the OCM to crack down on the high number of unregulated shops that have cropped up in the board’s catchment area of Bay Ridge as of late.

“The members of Community Board 10 call upon the legislature of the State of New York to immediately enact legislation to amend the MRTA and/or penal law to enable the Office of Cannabis Management to order the closure of unlicensed commercial establishments involved in the unlicensed sale of cannabis, including the unlicensed delivery of cannabis, in order to ensure proper regulation of product, consumer protection, including protection of sales to minors and provide clear provisions to prevent any commercial establishment involved in the unlicensed sale from obtaining any future licenses,” the resolution reads.

big chief dispensary
Big Chief, an illegal dispensary on 74th Street and 3rd Avenue, was the subject of many community complaints — and was busted by police last week. File photo by Jada Camille

The resolution — a non-binding and solely advisory recommendation on behalf of the Bay Ridge board — also points to problems regulating product in unlicensed shops, as well as the dangerous nature of shops marketing to children. As it stands, the law does not provide or enforce repercussions for unlicensed retail cannabis dealers nor does it bar unlicensed commercial establishments selling cannabis or cannabis products from obtaining licensing in the future.

“We’ve been told that there is a loophole or lack of clarity in the state law that doesn’t clearly spell out a mechanism to close down an establishment that is unlicensed which we feel is very important at Community Board 10,” Beckmann told Brooklyn Paper. “I mean certainly for consumer protections and safety and health safety. There’s a reason why the state law was created to have tight regulation and licensing.”

The committee brought the motion before the board at the meeting, where it received unanimous approval.

Community Board 10 now joins a chorus of other community leaders who have been calling for government officials to crack down on the legal gray area surrounding cannabis sale. Last month, Bay Ridge Councilmember Justin Brannan and Senator Andrew Gournades addressed a letter to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell seeking more control of unlicensed storefronts.

“The state legalized recreational marijuana and dispensaries over a year ago but still hasn’t issued a single license in Brooklyn. This delay has resulted in a gray area free-for-all,” Brannan said in a statement. “I support the legalization of recreational marijuana but these new retail licenses from the state will be worthless and tax revenue will be a far cry from what’s anticipated unless we get these licenses out the door and get serious about the illegal weed shops masquerading as legit dispensaries.” 

Cops bust illegal dispensary

Brannan said his office has continued to work alongside the New York City Police Department, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and OCM to take action against the bevy of Bay Ridge smoke shops selling cannabis — among them, Big Chief, a controversial storefront at the corner of 74th Street and Third Avenue that was raided by cops last week.

Last month, Big Chief employees told Brooklyn Paper that they’d begun to sell cannabis without a license due to the logistical gray area. On Wednesday, Nov. 16, officers with the NYPD and sheriff’s office were able to breach Big Chief, ultimately confiscating around $1 million worth of illegal cannabis products and arresting two people associated with the business.

Roughly $1 million dollars worth of cannabis were gathered from Big Chief.
Roughly $1 million dollars worth of cannabis was confiscated from Big Chief in the bust. The shop had been operating in a legal “gray area,” and cops had received many complaints from the community. Photo courtesy NYPD

Reps for the sheriff’s office didn’t immediately respond to Brooklyn Paper’s request for comment.

Outside of the Bay Ridge shop after the raid, Sheriff Anthony Miranda told reporters on the scene that his office had received countless complaints about the business — echoing Beckmann, Brannan, Gounardes, and others.

“The location is known for, when it’s set up, the illegal cannabis they are selling currently,” Miranda said. “This is an illegal activity that’s going on in many communities right now. It’s a public safety issue and is a health issue as well. These products being sold are not authorized, not inspected. We don’t know the quality of the product or if it’s being mixed with anything else that is a danger to our community.”