Licensed cannabis dispensary owners unite to push for local crackdown on unlicensed weed shops

File photo
File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

A coalition of legal and licensed cannabis dispensary owners have come together to urge New York State officials to take swift legislative action against unlicensed weed shops.

The dispensary owners have joined forces and penned a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie calling on them to pass legislation that would grant local authorities the power to shut down illegal shops, establish strict penalties for unlicensed cannabis sales, and implement more support for legal businesses through the form of education campaigns and faster product regulations.

The letter has been signed by 100 supporters and cannabis business owners, including Osbert Orduña, who opened the first legal dispensary in Middle Village last month.

Legitimate cannabis business owners argue that the slow rollout of legal cannabis storefronts and the continued appearance of smoke shops selling illegal products has created additional challenges to those tasked with opening a dispensary, the letter reads.

Furthermore, the coalition writes that the lack of enforcement power against illegal shops has created an environment where there are no legal consequences for illegal weed sales. The city and state are also left with reduced tax revenue.

“These unauthorized dispensaries operate with impunity, flouting the law, and siphoning off customers from legitimate businesses that are playing by the rules,” the letter reads. “This not only diminishes the state’s potential tax revenue but also undercuts the very objectives of legalization — to transition the illicit market to a well-regulated and inclusive cannabis industry that ensures product safety and creates lasting, equitable economic opportunities for all.”

Although the coalition acknowledges the work of the NYS Office of Cannabis Management to address illegal marijuana and cannabis sales, the enforcement action is not enough to tackle the illegal smoke shop issue at large and the coalition says local assistance is needed.

“Despite assurances to the contrary, we find ourselves competing against thousands of unlicensed operators who evade these obligations, undercutting our businesses, subverting the social equity tenets of the law, and jeopardizing public health and safety.”

The coalition says that increased enforcement is needed to ensure public safety, such as in product packaging. For instance, characters from popular cartoon franchises are often used in illegal product packaging, which creates an overwhelming concern for the welfare of children, the group states.

The coalition calls on the state to implement immediate action giving law enforcement the ability to shutter illegal cannabis sellers; establish strong penalties for illegal sales; create consistent and effective collaboration between state and city agencies; allow for public education campaigns on the risks of unlicensed weed sources; and streamline the process for legal cannabis product regulation.

Legal cannabis storefront owners say the success of New York’s cannabis market depends on a fair and enforceable regulatory environment.