‘Padlock to Protect’: NYC boosts effort to shut down illegal cannabis shops with new state-granted authority

NYPD and Sheriff's office members at illegal cannabis shop raid
The NYPD and city Sheriff’s office raided and padlocked a smoke shop at 110 Church Street in lower Manhattan found to be selling cannabis without a license. Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday launched a new initiative to shut down unlicensed cannabis sellers in the Big Apple after being given more authority to do so in last month’s state budget.

The effort, dubbed “Operation Padlock to Protect,” will involve a cohort of local law enforcement and city agencies inspecting and padlocking stores found to be selling cannabis without a license. It officialy kicked off May 7, with authorities fanning out across the five boroughs to inspect, fine and padlock 20 illicit sellers, according to City Hall.

But while the mayor said the action will scale up in the coming weeks, he declined to give an exact number on how many stores his administration aims to close each day, when asked by amNewYork Metro. Instead of an approximate figure, he simply said “as many as possible.”

Adams, during his weekly City Hall news conference on Tuesday, said now that Albany has granted his administration “more tools” to shut down illegal cannabis shops, it will move aggressively to curtail curtail the issue.

“The illegal shops … have become a magnet for crime, they have become a magnet for quality of life issues that we have faced in this city,” the mayor said. “Our message is clear: We want to close them down, and if you’re out there, we have a lock with your name on it.”

The roughly 2,800 illegal weed shops have proliferated across the city ever since Albany lawmakers moved to legalize cannabis in 2021, taking root as the state has been slow to roll out licenses to sellers who applied for them through the mandated process.

A bust in real time

NYC Sheriff's office members ahead of cannabis shop raid
Members of the NYC Sheriff’s Office are briefed before heading out on a raid of illegal cannabis shops on May 7, 2024.Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

During the press conference, the mayor pointed to a screen showing a real-time raid led by city Sheriff Anthony Miranda on a Lower Manhattan smoke shop illegally selling cannabis.

Miranda, through a spotty and lagging internet connection, said the raid was targeting “New City Smoke Shop” at 110 Church St., just a block away from City Hall.

The sheriff said the shop was caught selling illicit products like unlicensed cannabis and cigarettes as well as mushrooms. He added that all of the packaging of the illegal items found in the shop were meant to attract young people.

“They are violating every statute that we have in terms of the new laws and protections that we have,” Miranda said. “This is just one shop in a five borough operation that we conducted today. We have teams in all five boroughs executing inspections as we speak and we’ll be sealing these locations after the inspections.”

The city’s newfound power to padlock unlicensed cannabis sellers was granted in the Fiscal Year 2025 state budget that was approved last month. Specifically, the spending plan gives local authorities, including the city sheriff and the NYPD, the ability to shutter illegal cannabis shops for up to a year.

However, Adams said the changes do not give the NYPD power to directly close the stores itself and that the department still needs to be “deputized” by the sheriff’s office in order to participate in raids. Furthermore, he said, following the inspections and padlocking, the businesses still have the ability to apply to the city’s Office of Administrative Trials (OATH) and Hearings to reopen after a certain period of time — though they would have to show they are no longer selling the illegal goods.

The mayor gave those caveats after he last week hedged on his often repeated declaration that he would shutter all of the city’s unlicensed shops within 30 days, if given the power by Albany to do so. Instead, he said his administration would make a “substantial dent” in closing those stores over the next month.

“On the 31st day, don’t be standing in front of City Hall saying ‘hey, I saw a weed shop,’ Adams said last week. “Because they’re gonna continue to open we have to continue to close them.”