NYC Cracks Down on Unlicensed Smoke & Cannabis Shops

Since New York legalized adult-use cannabis in 2021, New York State Licensed Cannabis Dispensaries have cropped up across the city. But while these shops make it easy for adults 21 and older to legally purchase recreational marijuana, they’ve yet to eliminate the black market.

In fact, they haven’t made a dent.

According to the Mayor’s Office, NYC has more unlicensed pot shops than Starbucks. And not just by a slim margin. There are an estimated 2,800 retailers across New York City selling unlicensed cannabis, including many small smoke shops, bodegas, or mom-and-pop stores looking to capitalize on the profitability of the growing cannabis market. These retailers outnumber the number of Starbucks locations in all five boroughs eight-to-one.

The proliferation of illegal weed shops has become such a problem that the City has initiated a high-priority law enforcement effort to crack down on unlicensed vendors and the illegal cannabis industry.

“Operation Padlock to Protect”

In May, NYC May Eric Adams announced the start of a citywide operation aimed at shutting down unlicensed smoke and cannabis shops.

The initiative, dubbed “Operation Padlock to Protect,” came just weeks after the state gave municipalities the regulatory authority to shut down illegal pot shops. This means that the New York City’s Sheriff’s Office, along with other local law enforcement agencies, can now inspect smoke and cannabis shops and shutter those that sell cannabis without proper city and state licensing.

The operation has already had significant results. According to the Mayor’s Office, the NYC Sherrif’s Joint Compliance Task Force, which consists of members from the Sherriff’s Office, NYPD, and NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) closed 75 locations in the first week alone. They also issued hundreds of violation notices and nearly $6 million in penalties.

Similar efforts are also being taken by other city and state agencies. An operation being conducted by the New York State Cannabis Enforcement Task Force, for example, shut down over 100 illicit storefronts within three weeks of being launched.

Criminal Implications of NYC’s Illegal Pot Shop Crackdown

As a firm with a thriving criminal defense practice, our team at Gannes & Musico, LLP has seen firsthand how New York’s legalization of marijuana has changed the game when it comes to how the City prosecutes cannabis-related offenses. However, we also see that the City is committed to aggressively combatting what it perceives to be a pervasive illegal pot shop problem.

As a result, initiatives like “Operation Padlock to Protect” can put considerable penalties or jail time on the table, especially for those accused of serious drug crimes. Some of the highest priority targets for the City include:

  • Smoke shops, cannabis shops, and other establishments allegedly selling cannabis, THC edibles, THC vapes, untaxed cigarettes, flavored tobacco, flavored vapes, or other cannabis and tobacco products.
  • Landlords and building owners who could be legally liable for the continued unlicensed sale of cannabis or tobacco products by tenants.
  • Distributors and suppliers of illegal and unlicensed cannabis and tobacco products.

Under a New York State law passed in 2023, selling cannabis without a license is a crime. Businesses and others involved with illicit cannabis storefronts, as well as businesses that sell or give cannabis in indirect ways (such as through “sticker shops” or gifting schemes), can face both civil and criminal penalties. This includes fines of up to $20,000 per day and Class A misdemeanor charges that can result in up to a year in jail.

For individuals who partake in recreational marijuana, these high-profile law enforcement operations should send a reminder that marijuana products can only be purchased at adult-use or medical dispensaries licensed by the State Office of Cannabis Management. You can identify which shops are appropriately licensed by looking for a NYS Licensed Cannabis Dispensary decal near the main entrance, or using the City’s online adult-use dispensary locator.

Locals and tourists alike should also be mindful of State and City cannabis laws to avoid facing criminal charges and penalties themselves. At Gannes & Musico, LLP, we have extensive experience representing clients who’ve been charged with all types of drug and cannabis-related offenses, including those involving:

  • Possession of cannabis in quantities above the legal limit (three ounces of cannabis flower and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis outside of the home for personal use, and up to five pounds of cannabis in your home)
  • Possession, sale, or use of any amount of cannabis for individuals under 21 years of age
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Cultivation, selling, or distributing marijuana

Facing Criminal Charges? Gannes & Musico, LLP Can Help.

Whether you are a business owner, landlord, or individual who has been charged with a cannabis-related crime in New York City, the time to act is now.

At Gannes & Musico, LLP, our award-winning attorneys have secured thousands of not guilty verdicts for clients facing all types of traffic and criminal charges, including those involving marijuana and various drug offenses. If you have questions about your rights and options for a defense, call (877) 803-2603 or contact us online. Consultations are FREE and confidential.

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