New York Task Force to Target Unregulated Cannabis Sales

At a press conference on December 15, 2022, New York City Mayor Adams announced the creation of a joint task force between the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the NYPD, the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protections and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management to weed out illegal dispensaries.

What the task force does

The purpose of the task force is to target, among other things, sales of unregulated THC products. According to Mayor Adams, in the last two weeks, the agencies inspected 53 storefronts across the city and seized more than 100,000 illegal products worth about $4 million. Moreover, the task force supposedly issued 500 civil violations and 66 criminal summonses.

Need for a task force

One particular case stood out: two men in Queens are facing charges for allegedly operating an illegal marijuana dispensary. They were charged on a 57-count complaint charging them with criminal sale of cannabis in the second and third degrees, criminal possession of cannabis in the third degree, unlawful sale of cannabis, and unlawful possession of cannabis. Notably, the two men allegedly ran their business less than two blocks from two neighborhood schools, which is one of the many things that the Office of Cannabis Management (the “OCM”) has consistently worked to prevent.

Mayor Adams went on to talk about the dangers of unregulated cannabis products, noting that some are packaged like candy and could appeal to children. One of the main focuses of the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (“CAURD”) Guidelines (see our recent webinar here) is the importance of product packaging and branding for dispensaries, to ensure that children are not targeted. Licensed products and dispensaries are subject to strict regulations about how they can be packaged and marketed.

Adams said store operators would be educated about how cannabis licensing works in New York, which hints that he is not ready to shut down some businesses altogether despite their clear violation of the MRTA and New York State Laws. Such a statement by Mayor Adams may not scare illegal dispensaries/vendors from shutting down their business yet, but the creation of the task force shows a clear intent to fix the illegal dispensaries problem plaguing New York City before the CAURD dispensaries open.

Beyond the task force

Mayor Adams noted that he aims to tweak state laws around marijuana in order to make it easier to crack down on unlicensed storefronts, but he refused to share a specific legislative agenda on how that would be done. One such measure however was announced by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul at a press conference: the state has created a special seal paired with a QR code to be posted in store windows. This will inform consumers that a shop is licensed to sell cannabis, and allow shoppers to avoid the purchase of unlicensed and potential harmful products.

New York is taking its clean up approach a few steps at a time, but it appears that there is clear legislative intent to remove the unregulated sales once licensed dispensaries open up. Our New York cannabis business lawyers will continue to track the development of the local program from our office here in Manhattan.