D.A. Bragg, Mayor Adams Announce Partnership to Combat Proliferation of Illegal, Unlicensed Cannabis Dispensaries

February 7, 2023

D.A. and Mayor’s Office Unite to Protect New York’s Fledgling Legal Cannabis Industry, Health and Wellbeing of Consumers and Young New Yorkers

D.A.’s Office Sends Letters to 400+ Known Smoke Shops in Manhattan Warning of Potential Eviction Proceedings for Unlawful Cannabis Sales

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. and New York City Mayor Eric Adams today announced a partnership with local law enforcement and elected officials to combat the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed cannabis dispensaries across the borough of Manhattan. The Manhattan D.A.’s Office is partnering with the mayor’s office in a collaborative enforcement effort that will protect New York’s fledgling legal cannabis industry, as well as the health and wellbeing of consumers and young New Yorkers put at risk by unregulated products.
Today, the D.A.’s Office mailed letters to more than 400 known smoke shops in Manhattan, warning them of the potential for eviction proceedings for unlawful cannabis sales. Specifically, the letter informs commercial entities that the Office “is prepared to use its civil authority under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 715(1) to require owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal trade or business, and to take over such eviction proceedings if necessary.” The full text of the letter is available here, and below.
Over the coming weeks, the Office will work with its partners to determine where evidence exists of unauthorized cannabis sales and other illegal activity, and will notify landlords of their requirement to begin eviction proceedings. If the landlord does not make an application to evict within five days of the written notice – or if, after making the application, the landlord does not “in good faith diligently prosecute it” – then the Office will bring its own proceeding against the tenant as though it were the landlord. 
“For nearly two years, we’ve seen a proliferation of storefronts across Manhattan selling unlicensed, unregulated, and untaxed cannabis products. It’s time for the operation of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries to end,” said District Attorney Bragg. “Just as we don’t allow endless unlicensed bars and liquor stores to open on every corner, we cannot allow that for cannabis. It’s not safe to sell products that aren’t properly inspected and regulated for dosage, purity, and contaminants. And it certainly isn’t fair to competing businesses. Advocates fought hard to put racial equity at the center of New York’s cannabis legalization regime. We want to give New York’s legal cannabis market a fair chance to thrive and give New Yorkers the security of knowing that a safe, orderly system is in place for cannabis dispensaries. Together, we can level the playing field for New York’s legal cannabis market and deliver on the promise of equity and fairness that legalization advocates fought so long and hard for.”
“Legalizing cannabis was a major step forward for equity and justice — but we’re not going to take two steps back by letting illegal smoke shops take over this emerging market,” said Mayor Adams. “Today, we are proud to announce we are taking direct action against four unlicensed smoke shops in the 9th Precinct, which will complement our efforts with District Attorney Bragg to hold these illegal businesses accountable. We are laser-focused on protecting the health and well-being of New Yorkers and ensuring this emerging industry delivers equity to those who deserve it the most. I also want to acknowledge the tireless work of the New York City Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office to combat the proliferation of unlicensed smokeshops across our city and keep New Yorkers safe.”

“The safe sale and distribution of legal cannabis in New York City requires a licensed, regulated, and standardized industry,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “Smoke shops operating illegally pose a public safety and health risk to our communities, and destabilize an emerging business interest. The NYPD will use every resource available to protect New Yorkers, and to ensure that the new cannabis regulations in our state are recognized, accepted, and enforced. Thank you to the Mayor’s office, the Manhattan District Attorney, the NYC Sheriff’s office, local elected officials, and everyone else involved in this important effort.”
“Our partnership with New York County District Attorney Bragg and his office is in keeping with Mayor Adam’s vision of a comprehensive team response to this very serious public health and safety issues presented by Smoke Shops engaged in illegal activity,” said New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda. “The Sheriff’s Office will continue to explore more partnerships and collaboration with other City, State, and Federal Agencies to help protect the City of New York. Landlords are now on notice and can no longer turn a blind eye. Choosing profit over public health and public safety is no longer an option.”

“The Law Department has partnered with the NYPD and the New York City sheriff to send a strong message to businesses that illegally sell cannabis: Your sale of cannabis will not be tolerated in our city,” said Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix. “These businesses must adhere to all of the state’s strict regulations for the sale of cannabis, which include getting licensed and not selling to minors. With these nuisance abatement complaints, we are seeking to bring these defendants into immediate compliance with the law, and if they continue to flout it, we’ll work to shut them down so our communities and youth are not at risk.”

“These illicit store fronts are putting public health at-risk while undermining our ability to build an equitable market that works to offset the harms caused by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition, and we are thankful for our partnership with New York City and District Attorney Bragg and these latest steps to shut down unwanted shops,” said Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management. “This thoughtful approach builds on our ongoing enforcement efforts and will help propel our ability to stop the sale of these illegal, contaminated products as we continue to build the market New Yorkers intended by following the parameters of New York State’s Cannabis Law.”

“I am very pleased to see D.A. Bragg and Mayor Adams thinking creatively about how to use their existing enforcement powers to close down unlicensed cannabis shops. These unlicensed sellers not only undermine the equity goals of our recreational cannabis program, they also put their customers at risk by failing to abide by health and safety and other regulations set by the Office of Cannabis Management. I urge District Attorneys and law enforcement agencies throughout the state to follow their example,” said Senator Liz Krueger.

“Smoke shops illegally peddling cannabis are about to finally face the music,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “In 2021, the passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was hailed as a major victory for Black and minority communities across the State that had historically been impacted by Nixon’s decades-long War on Drugs. However, the rise of shops selling illegal cannabis threatens to dismantle much of that progress by robbing communities of justice and much-needed tax revenue promised by MRTA. I applaud District Attorney Bragg’s decision to hold these bad actors to account, and ultimately to ensure the success of this critical legislation.”

“Smoke shops that illegally sell cannabis products are popping up in neighborhoods across Manhattan, compromising the integrity of the new cannabis licensing process and undercutting the immensely important equity goals of the new cannabis laws,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “As this new legal industry emerges, we must ensure that businesses that do the right thing are in a position to succeed. I’m grateful for D.A. Bragg’s leadership and thoughtful approach to this issue, and look forward to working with him and local stakeholders to ensure that we are holding illegal operators accountable.”
“I have to stress what a feat this is by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. It seems like it would be easy for the City to close stores that are illegally selling unregulated cannabis, but under current laws it really isn’t. I saw first-hand how we’ve been relying on the New York City Sheriff’s authority over untaxed cigarettes as a way in the door to seize illegal products,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “It has been a necessary stopgap but was never going to be enough on its own to close 1,400 or more stores, or even disrupt them for more than a couple of days in many cases. We needed a creative solution to shutter stores quickly without bringing criminal charges and DA Bragg found it. I hope the city’s four other District Attorneys are able to take the same approach in their jurisdictions.”

Council Member Erik Bottcher said, “Minors shouldn’t have easy access to smoke products of any kind, and more needs to be done to stop unscrupulous businesses from selling to them. We hope this is the beginning of more serious enforcement against illegal smoke shops.”

“We have seen the proliferation of illegal smoke shops across all corners of the five boroughs, and we are saying quite simply: enough is enough. Unregulated, unlicensed smoke shops have no place in our city. While we look forward to the continued expansion of state-regulated dispensaries and support for legacy operators, it is incumbent upon us to weed out the bad actors that are selling harmful, unregulated products that do not meet the same standards that legal marijuana does. I want to thank Mayor Adams and District Attorney Bragg for their commitment to hearing the concerns of community residents and coming up with new and creative avenues of enforcement,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu.

“To protect public health, ensure access to safe products, and support legal shop stewards, businesses must be held accountable to the same rules and agencies must commit to the equitable enforcement of those rules. Organizers have worked for decades to create a legal market for cannabis that is focused on social justice and addresses the harms of mass incarceration and the war on drugs. We must take these aims seriously and New York’s program is on track to be the most equitable and competitive in the country. Interagency communication and clear regulations and enforcement mechanisms are critical to its success, and I commend District Attorney Bragg and Mayor Adams for working together to combat the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed cannabis dispensaries across the borough of Manhattan,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.

Full Text of Today’s Letter
February 7, 2023
To Whom it May Concern:
There have been concerns raised by the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and many citizens of the City of New York about illegal activity occurring in smoke shops across the five boroughs. Some of this conduct includes the unlicensed sale of cannabis, the sale of untaxed cigarettes, and the sale of adulterated products. This letter is to inform you that the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office is prepared to use our civil authority under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 715(1) to require owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal trade or business, and to take over such eviction proceedings if necessary.  Of course, in instances where criminal charges are warranted, including but not limited to tax evasion, money laundering, or the sale of cannabis and other narcotics to minors, my office will work with our law enforcement partners to prosecute those crimes.
When it was signed into law in 2021, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act created a comprehensive regulatory structure to oversee the licensure, cultivation, production, distribution, sale and taxation of medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp within New York State.  The New York State Cannabis Control Board has since established a framework grounded in cannabis public health best practices, including keeping cannabis products out of the hands of youth, establishing product quality and safety guidelines, outlining employee training standards, and defining business security requirements to protect public safety. Revenue received from the state from licenses and the sales of cannabis from licensed businesses will be used to support education, drug treatment and community reinvestment.  For these reasons, in order to sell most cannabis products, you must be a licensed retailer and abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the State of New York. Failure to do so jeopardizes the health and well-being of New York City residents and undermines businesses that have legitimately obtained licenses through the state’s regulatory process.
This letter is not a formal notice of eviction proceedings, and the legal sale of products otherwise authorized by the City and State of New York will not result in any legal action by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. However, to protect the health and well-being of New York City residents, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will use both our civil and criminal enforcement authority, in close collaboration with the New York City Mayor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, the NYPD and our other law enforcement partners, against those circumventing New York State’s recently enacted cannabis law.  

Alvin L. Bragg, Jr.
District Attorney