‘No tolerance for illicit retailers’: Illegal Bay Ridge weed shop shut down after multiple violations

Attorney General James and city agencies shut down illegal Bay Ridge weed shop after months of unlicensed sales.
Attorney General James worked with city and state agencies to help shut down an illegal Bay Ridge weed shop after months of unlicensed sales.
Photo by Jada Camille/Inset courtesy of AG James’ office

City and state officials on Monday shut down a controversial Bay Ridge weed shop for operating without a license and ignoring multiple violation warnings.

Big Chief, an unlicensed dispensary at the corner of 74th Street and Third Avenue, was hit with a court order for selling cannabis and related paraphernalia for months without a legal license and repeatedly ignored the Office of Cannabis Management’s and law enforcement’s request to stop.

Along with the court order — handed down by Attorney General Letitia James, Governor Kathy Hochul and OCM — city officials are looking to penalize shop owners and property owners for allowing illegal activity to occur for so long. 

“Unlicensed cannabis stores selling unregulated products pose a health risk to New Yorkers and hurt the businesses that are following the rules,” AG James said in a statement. “New Yorkers who buy and use cannabis shouldn’t have to worry about the quality and safety of the products they are purchasing, which is why all shops must be licensed and regulated.”

The City's Office of Cannabis Management closed an illegal weed shop after multiple raids and violation warnings.
The City’s Office of Cannabis Management close an illegal weed shop with court order.Photo courtesy Council Member Justin Brannan

In August 2023, OCM and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance found that Big Chief was still selling cannabis flower, concentrates, vapes, edibles, and pre-rolled joints without having a state-issued license to sell. Investigators confiscated 161 pounds of cannabis flower, 137 pounds of cannabis-infused product, 108 pounds of concentrated cannabis, and 60 pounds of cannabis pre-rolls. OCM issued a violation notice, ordered the shop to stop unlicensed activity and posted warning notices to for the public. 

Two months later, OCM inspectors returned to the Bay Ridge shop to find the warning documents they posted on the front windows covered and that the store was still selling cannabis. They seized an additional 200 pounds of illicit weed and issued another violation notice. 

These 2023 raids come after an inspection by the New York City Police Department and the sheriff’s office last November, during which they confiscated around $1 million worth of illegal cannabis products and arrested 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

“Big Chief has not only flouted New York’s cannabis laws, but they have also been a perpetual bad neighbor,” Senator Andrew Gounardes, who represents the district, said in a statement. “I’m relieved that they are finally facing serious state action and will face accountability. When the state legislature passed laws to strengthen enforcement, this is exactly what we had in mind.”

Residents have long pleaded with city agencies to have the shop closed. In November 2022, heads of local Community Board 10 wrote a resolution to state leaders to provide clarity around the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which they said left a loophole for unlicensed weed shops to run with little to no consequences.

Senator Gounardes and Council Member Justin Brannan also wrote a letter to then-Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell last October, asking her to crack down on the unlawful storefronts. 

“While I have always supported the legalization and regulation of marijuana, the young legal industry in New York has been undermined by illegal stores opening everywhere and masquerading as legitimate dispensaries,” Brannan said. “If we care about a strong and safe legal marijuana industry in New York, then we must shut down the bad actors. Despite multiple raids and temporary closures, Big Chief has brazenly flouted both the law and an outrageous number of neighborhood complaints in operating their illegal shop.”

Attorney James also signed a petition to shut down Big Chief Smoke Shop and stop the owner from distributing, delivering, dispensing and selling cannabis products in New York. The petition could also require store owners to pay back millions for violating New York’s Cannabis Law. The law holds a a penalty of up to $10,000 for each day where cannabis was sold without a license and a penalty of up to $20,000 for each day an individual continues to sell cannabis after receiving an order to cease operating from OCM.

“We have no tolerance for illicit retailers who break the law and undermine our nation-leading adult-use cannabis industry,” said Governor Hochul said. “With Brooklyn’s first legal cannabis retailers opening this month and illegal shops continuing to close, we are turning the corner toward building a stronger, safer cannabis industry.”

The first legal Brooklyn dispensary is set to open on Dec. 19 in Gravesend.

(Update 12/19/23 at 3:17 p.m.): An earlier version of this story claimed the first legal Brooklyn dispensary would open in Coney Island.