If you drive by most of the major thoroughfares in the five boroughs at night — or even during the day, in some places — you can’t help but catch that familiar skunky smell. Except it’s not from fresh roadkill. It is the wide variety of marijuana that has become part of the New York City landscape.
Two years after the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was signed into law, more than 1,400 city shops selling marijuana and related paraphernalia have opened. The only thing is all but two are actual legal, vetted shops.
Take a drive down Broadway in Kingsbridge, and you will find one of those illegal shops. If you go through the rest of the Bronx, you will find many similar dispensaries. Many have colorful signs and shelves of the many different cannabis that is available. The same can be said for different parts of Manhattan.
In the Northwest Bronx, only one recreational cannabis dispensary has been approved. But the location isn’t even public record yet.
Currently, the state is only approving licenses for social equity applicants through the conditional adult-use retail dispensary program — “CAURD.” But ultimately, the market will open to general applicants. The volunteer members of the city’s community boards will play an advisory role in approving licenses for retail dispensaries as well as on-site consumption and delivery businesses.
It’s not as if Mayor Eric Adams and Sheriff Anthony Miranda have ignored this trend. A task force led by the city sheriff’s office went on a two-week enforcement spree in December, conducting raids at more than 50 unlicensed dispensaries across the city. They seized more than $4 million worth of products. and issued more than 560 civil and criminal summonses to store operators.
In his State of the City address two weeks ago, Adams addressed the illegal cannabis shop problem, saying he supports launching a new loan fund to help more New York residents impacted by the “war on drugs” start new businesses, while increasing enforcement against unlicensed establishments undermining the legal weed industry.
What started out as an admirable effort to give back to those convicts who were incarcerated for selling illegal marijuana over the years is fast becoming an out-of-control train bearing down on the city. The mayor and sheriff face an impossible task. Unless they had a task force of hundreds of law enforcement officials and prosecutors devoted to this particular task, there will be far more unlicensed than licensed shops.
The slow-moving bureaucracy of the state’s new Office of Cannibis Management — and city community boards that determine who gets the coveted licenses — cannot keep up with the unlicensed ones popping up. Soon, the city will have created an unfair marketplace that could ironically lead to the arrest of the unlicensed shop owners.
So, what to do?
One suggestion is an amnesty program that would allow unlicensed shop owners to be grandfathered into the new system. They could continue to pay fines for illegally selling the weed until they apply for and are approved for a license.
Of course, there is a lot more that would have to be done for the mayor’s office to get the situation under control. But, it is obvious something has to be done. Or the city will have such illegal dispensaries on every major street and corner throughout the city.