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NYC Illegal marijuana shops facing surprise raids, big fines. Here’s what we saw on a ride-along.



NYC Illegal marijuana shops facing surprise raids, big fines. Here’s what we saw on a ride-along.

NEW YORK — Three years after recreational marijuana became legal in the state, unlicensed dispensaries outnumber legal ones around New York City.

Now with new authority, the city is cracking down.

The enforcement comes with no warning from the city

On a sunny summer day on Staten Island, CBS New York rode along exclusively New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda for an inside look at the enforcement. That day, they headed to what was reportedly an unlicensed shop.

“Nobody receives advance notice of where we’re going,” Miranda said. “What they’re doing is selling unregulated and unsafe product to the community.”

They pulled up to a sex shop on Gulf Avenue. Mayor Eric Adams joined to inspect some of what officers found behind the counter.

“Weapons, tobacco, cannabis,” Adams said.

In all, $19,000 worth of cannabis was boxed and bagged and seized by the city. The sex shop was hit with a $25,000 fine.

“Every night here, a lot of people,” said neighbor Rahm Cherukuri said, who owns the business next door. “Thank God [the] city is doing this.”

How the city says it prevents repeat offenders

What’s to stop an illegal business from paying its fine and then going back to selling the products again in a month?

“We have to make it more costly to stop you from opening than allowing you to stay open,” Adams said.

The inspections have become much more common since May, after the mayor lobbied the state to raise the fines and give the sheriff authority to padlock an unlicensed cannabis shop on the spot, without the go-ahead from Albany.

Since then, the sheriff has issued more than $43 million in fines and shuttered more than 500 stores, including an arcade on Amboy Road.

“Our young people may come here to play a video game [and] next thing you know they’re on the pathway of using cannabis,” Adams said.

Some smoke shop owners have filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing the raids are a violation of their due process rights. Adams talked about how the legalization of marijuana in New York was about undoing the effects of the war on drugs. He said it can be difficult to toe that line to make sure the law is enforced but also now going backwards.

“That was one of our concerns, when the first phase of legalization of cannabis took place,” Adams said. “We don’t want to go backwards and the best way to do that is be very stringent about not allowing these illegal shops to open everywhere.”

Law enforcement has a lot more work to do  

About 3,000 reportedly unlicensed cannabis shops still remain across New York City.

A few days earlier, the sheriff shut down a distribution center in Brooklyn, where law enforcement found counterfeit labels and unregulated chemicals used to flavor the flower.

“People are not smoking cannabis. They’re smoking chemicals,” Miranda said.

CBS New York’s final stop of the day was a smoke shop on Richmond Hill Road.

“We can see they have just basic smoke accessories,” Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Craig McCusker said.

Everything looked up to snuff at the start, but then we went to the back. Officers inspecting first noticed a door that slides in the back room, and that brought them over to a book case. Some misaligned panels made them suspicious and with some elbow grease they were able to slide it open and climb through to the basement.

“As we went through the rooms you can see that somebody might be residing in that location, and then we found this” McCusker said, referring to over “$20,000 worth of pot stashed in the boiler room. “You can tell this isn’t a random store. The way that they’re set up, they’re selling volume.”

“People aren’t buying properly regulated stuff” 

McCusker said some of the product is 10 times as potent as what can be legally sold in New York.

“People aren’t buying properly regulated stuff. Besides the fact that they’re not paying proper taxes,” McCusker said.

The sheriff issued that Richmond Hill Road shop a $33,000 fine and will see the owner in court in two weeks.

“The long-term goal here is that the legal cannabis business has the opportunity strive and do what it was designed to do and provide the benefits to the city we’re all expecting from it,” Miranda said.

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