NY Weeding Out Illegal Merchants

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Here’s one way to harsh a buzz.

State regulators Thursday identified 52 unlicensed merchants who are illegally peddling marijuana in the open before New York has even issued licenses to sell cannabis.

In cease-and-desist letters, the Office of Cannabis Management threatened to whack the illegal weed sellers by denying them a license to operate dispensaries legally — if they don’t stop the illicit activity.

Landlords offering space to the weed operators also will be denied the right to rent space to cannabis lounges or dispensaries, if they condone black market sales on their property, the letters threaten.

“Unlicensed sales undermine the legal market that is being built by introducing products that are not lab-tested and potentially threaten public health and safety,” the OCM’s warning letters to weed operators said.

“You are hereby directed to cease any and all illegal activity immediately, failure to cease this activity puts your ability to obtain a license in the legal cannabis market at substantial risk.

The OCM’s enforcement unit added that the unlicensed sale of cannabis is illegal and subjects merchants to “substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.”

Eighteen of the 52 entities cited were located or doing business in New York City, most with storefronts.

Illegal sales include “gifting” — whereby pot sellers have customers join a “club”, who then buy other consumer products and then are gifted their edibles or smokeables — as well as in-person sales, events or home delivery.

OCM is expected to issue licenses to sell cannabis by the fall, with sales beginning by year’s end. It has already issued licenses to farmers to grow cannabis and will soon approve manufacturers to process the drug into edibles and products.

Cameron Kakuck, co-owner of Brooklyn Smokes, insisted his shop didn’t jump the gun in selling pot.

“We are one of the shops who are obeying the law. We didn’t do anything under the counter or offer gift programs. We want to get a license in the future, Kakuck said.

Regulators also warned NOISE NYC on Smith Street in Brooklyn about selling illegal cannabis.

A Google review from three months ago refers to a “Budtender” named Sammy at NOISE NYC.

But owner Adeb Deeb insisted his shop wasn’t breaking the law.

“I have an ex-partner who also has the business name, so he has stores as well, so I guess that’s what they’re doing, but what’s not what we’re doing here,” Deeb said.

“Well, we’re not [selling pot], so I mean, I just kind of ignored it, because that’s not what we’re doing here,” he said of the cease and desist letter.

At least one cease-and-desist recipient had already made clear her intention to defy the orders.

Empire Cannabis Club owner Lenore Elfand received her first letter in February, but told CBS that she planned to keep “gifting” the drug.

“While there are costs involved for running it, there are no compensation [sic] for the cannabis that’s distributed,” her attorney Steve Zissou said at the time.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature approved the law legalizing marijuana in March, 2021, but disputes led to delays in launching the program. Gov. Kathy Hochul made appointments to the cannabis control board and leadership of OCM to jump start the budding industry.