Adams Announces New Crackdown On Illegal Pot Shops’ Landlords

New York dispensary opening Adams
A cannabis shop in the garment district advertises its grand opening in 2022 Photo: Shutterstock

The latest in a series of enforcement and education announcements from Adams comes as New York estimates there are about 1,500 unlicensed operations, competing with just nine licensed storefronts

Mayor Eric Adams took another swing at taking down the city’s thousands of illegal marijuana shops Monday by threatening landlords and building owners who rent to them, in what City Hall said was ”a new front in the Adams administration’s efforts to combat the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed smoke shops.”

To do that, the city’s sheriff and his team sent letters to the landlords and owners of 50 buildings across the city, warning them that they could be liable for the unlicensed sale of marijuana by their tenants. It’s the latest in two years of efforts, so far mostly unsuccessful, to crack down on unlicensed operations that have flourished even as licensed ones have struggled to get off the ground.

The shops in the buildings receiving these new warnings have already been fined more than $7 million for selling illegal, unauthorized marijuana, according to City Hall. There are currently just nine legal storefronts selling marijuana in New York City, according to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management.

“To support the emerging, legal cannabis market, we must go after the bad actors who are breaking the law,” the mayor said in a statement.

Building owners whose tenants sell illegal tobacco or cannabis could face penalties of up to $1,000 a day once action is taken, the letter said. Those civil penalties could increase to $5,000 – and the cost of the city’s attorney and other fees – if a building owner doesn’t evict an illegal shop.

A spokesperson for the mayor, Brad Weekes, said City Hall could not disclose which shops, and which landlords, received the enforcement letters, which expand citywide an effort initiated by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to target landlords and building owners at locations that have already received violations. They will now receive a letter warning them that they could face “an injunction and penalties up to $1,000 a day,” and informing them that the city “is empowered to request that the building owner or landlord initiate an action to remove tenants from the property.”

The initial goal of the letter is education, Weeks said – and in some cases, the shops are already the targets of open investigations.

“Since forming, the task force has imposed more than $63 million in penalties — including an estimated $40.5 million in illegal product seized and over $23 million in civil penalties issued — and conducted more than 1,300 compliance and intelligence inspections,” he told THE CITY.

The City Council recently passed its own bill going after building owners and landlords, who could be slapped with a $5,000 civil penalty for a first violation and $10,000 penalties for subsequent violations.

I’m very glad that the mayor is following up on the illegal weed shop bill that was enacted this summer,” Queens City Councilmember Lynn Schulman, the bill’s lead sponsor, told THE CITY. The penalties “should bring in much needed revenue to the city.”

Warning Shots
The mayor first discussed going after the “bad actors” selling marijuana without a license in his State of the City address last February — but his own task force led by the city’s sheriff, which is the enforcement arm of the Department of Finance, was slow to do actual enforcement.

The task force went on a tear after another Adams announcement of more enforcement last November, inspecting 53 weed-selling locations in less than two weeks. But it slowed moving into 2023, inspecting just 54 locations in the first two and a half months of the year.

Last March, the union representing the city’s sheriff deputies even questioned the legality of their own pot shop busts, saying they are so far only authorized to inspect stores that sell cigarettes or tobacco.

And last month, the state’s cannabis agency stopped holding trials where judges could recommend fines and other penalties for illegal sales, putting a pause on the consequences that have followed raids on unlicensed smoke shops, which often reopen the next day..

The state’s agency only copped to the move after repeated requests by THE CITY to observe an Office of Cannabis Management hearing, blaming it on a lack of resources.

Before that suspension, the state had only held 26 trials since June.