The NYC Sheriff’s office has been busy ‘weed’-ing out illegal pot dealers in February, seizing more than a quarter-million dollars in merchandise from unlicensed retail sellers.
Sheriff Anthony Miranda announced on Friday that his office has led over 34 inspections of stores selling marijuana without a license over the past month, leading to the seizure of about $262,000 worth of cannabis plants and edibles.
The 34 stores that Miranda’s office inspected and made seizures at during February, make up a small portion of the over 1,400 shops they say are illegally selling weed and cannabis products across the five boroughs. The Sheriff’s office has conducted the inspections alongside the NYPD, FDNY, city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and state Office of Cannabis Management, which are all part of the Cannabis NYC Interagency Enforcement Task Force.
The sheriff said his office also captured $45,000 worth of cigarettes and made two arrests that resulted in the seizure of two guns.
Adams convened the task force in November to combat the scourge of unlicensed weed sellers that have proliferated across the city after the state legalized marijuana nearly two years ago. So far, only three licensed cannabis shops have opened in the city — all within several blocks of each other in Lower Manhattan.
Sheriff Miranda said the city is cracking down on these unlicensed pot sellers because the unregulated products they’re slinging have the potential to get people sick.
“The unregulated business presents a certain health hazard to all of our communities,” Miranda said. “We want to protect our communities against getting sick or smoking some product that is mixed with products we don’t know about.”
“There are only three legal cannabis locations that have been operational so far in the city,” he added. “So anybody else operating is illegal or unlicensed.”
Miranda provided the statistics in the first of a new series of briefings that Mayor Eric Adams’ Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Phil Banks, will hold each Friday at noon on the “state of public safety” in the city.
Friday’s briefing, and those coming up, will include both updates on public safety from Adams administration officials and a portion where they take questions from the public.
Miranda said the taskforce has conducted 142 inspections overall since it was convened, a 129% increase, and issued 285 violations — accounting for over half a million dollars. It’s also captured over $8 million in illicit products.
The Sheriff’s office has been prioritizing which locations to inspect by looking at where children have reportedly had overdoses or people have gotten sick as well as those that are closest to schools or houses of worship. He said they’re also looking at locations they hear about through community complaints.
One big problem, Miranda said, is that many of these stores are selling cannabis products placed in packaging that resembles candy and snack foods consumed by children.
“A lot of these locations are packaging toward our children,” he said. “They have Frito-Lays and they have all the major labels that are frequently used by our children. In fact, when you go into the stores, you’ll see that these edible products and candies that they’re selling, packaged for children, are right next to the regular products that children will often buy and the sodas as well.”
The legislation that legalized weed in New York, dubbed the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act,” set up the NYS Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which is geared toward first granting cannabis licenses to those who’ve been impacted by the “War on Drugs” or nonprofits that assist them.
Those who’ve called for coming down on illegal sellers, have argued that the activities undermine the burgeoning legal market by robbing those most impacted by punitive marijuana laws the opportunity to be the first sellers in the new market.
Earlier this month, the mayor and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took up a joint effort to crack down on smoke shops illegally selling pot in Manhattan.
The NYPD filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court against four East Village stores the department said its officers observed illegally selling the substance without a license, in some cases to minors. Bragg’s office also mailed letters to 400 smoke shops it believes are selling weed illegally, warning they could face eviction if they continue to flout the law.
Adams said tackling illegal weed sellers has become a major priority for his administration. Following an unrelated press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, he spoke particularly about the impact that unregulated cannabis sales could have on young people.
“We are up to about 14,000, 1,500, cannabis illegal cannabis shops,” the mayor said at the time. “And it’s not only that they’re selling illegal cannabis, but they’re targeting young people.”
“These children are waking up in the morning, going into the store, getting gummy bears that’s laced with marijuana, and then they’re going to go in school and learn,” he added. “And they’re opening up all around us? No, no, no. We are losing our grip.”