Hochul Pushes For More Local Enforcement of NY’s Unlicensed Smoke Shops

In her State of the State address on Jan. 9, Governor Kathy Hochul offered a set of legislative proposals that would allow local authorities to more aggressively shut down unregulated shops, which are drawing customers away from the legal bud market. UES City Councilmember Keith Powers filed a 2023 bill that would’ve padlocked unlicensed dispensaries, but it didn’t pass in the previous legislative session. Powers told Straus News that he plans to reintroduce the bill this session.

| 21 Jan 2024 | 02:04

During her 2024 State of the State address on Jan. 9, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed an enforcement-related legislative package intended to crack down on unlicensed smoke shops. The proposals would essentially empower the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to “streamline” the padlocking of the shops, or authorize their swift closure.

Hochul’s proposals are centered around “empowering” local and city governments–such as NYC’s–when it comes to enforcement, her office elaborated.

“As we continue to build and expand the most equitable legal cannabis market in the nation, we cannot let the brazen, illegal operators undermine public health and threaten our neighborhoods,” Hochul said in her address.

“Last year, we passed new laws to padlock and shut down illegal operators, but we know there’s more to be done and we need more tools to do it. We’re going to continue working with local leaders, including in New York City, to shut down illegal cannabis stores once and for all,” she added.

OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander lent his support to the measures. “As more retail locations open their doors to customers across the state, we have to be abundantly clear about what kind of market we are building. With Governor Hochul’s proposed expansion of enforcement powers, we get to expand our efforts to build a market where small businesses who follow the rules, have a shot to compete,” he said.

Hochul’s announcement echoes a bill introduced by two Queens politicians during Albany’s current legislative session, which began last week.

The Office of Cannabis Management says that it conducted 350 smoke shop inspections in 2023, seized $55 million dollars worth of “illicit” bud. Estimates of the number of unlicensed (and therefore illegal) smoke shops in NYC range from 1,500 to 8,000.

According to the OCM, these inspections began in June, after legislation passed allowing them to conduct the sweeps in May.

The OCM said that it received multiple court orders in 2023 allowing it to padlock unlicensed shops, although they were issued in upstate counties.

Forty-seven dispensaries have now received adult-use retail licenses statewide, with 17 in NYC. Ten are now open in Manhattan.

City Councilmember Keith Powers, then-Majority Leader and a representative of Manhattan’s East Side, proposed a bill last November that would’ve allowed the authorities to padlock unlicensed dispensaries under a public nuisance statute. Twenty-two sponsors signed on.

Powers told Straus News that “we are reintroducing” the bill before the City Council this year, and that he would “study” Hochul’s proposal.

In Albany, two Queens Democrats–State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and State Senator Leroy Comrie–have introduced a more severe bill dubbed the “SMOKEOUT Act.” Its “general idea” is to “authorize all municipalities to stop operations of unlicensed cannabis retailers and seize merchandise.” That would give the NYPD broader powers of enforcement.

Meanwhile, legally licensed bud continues to grow in Manhattan, with 11 OCM-verified retail dispensaries shops now open in the borough as of Jan. 21.