New York takes new offensive against illegal weed

new york illegal weed

New York cannabis is a lustrous scape of upstate farms and orchards, but there’s a weed war going on in New York City. Licensed cannabis shops are pouring funds into compliance and other costly state-regulated weed necessities. Meanwhile, almost 40,000 unlicensed shops sit blocks away, attracting tourists and unsuspecting locals to try their wares.

This has led to malcontent among lawmakers and some licensed shops. New York state Assemblyperson Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Woodhaven) wrote the SMOKEOUT Act to combat this issue. SMOKEOUT gives local municipalities the power to shut down unlicensed cannabis shops. Recently, the state included provisions from the bill in its budget, giving cities the green light on weeding out bad actors.

New budget to fight illicit weed

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul shared that the move is part of the 2025 budget in a statement released about the approval.

“Unlicensed dispensaries have littered New York neighborhoods, blatantly circumventing our laws and selling potentially dangerous products,” Hochul said. “Enough is enough. I promised to protect our communities and hard-working, legal cannabis licensees by expediting the closure of illicit storefronts. I’m proud to stand up and say we got it done.”

The Act was filed in December 2023 and set to take effect immediately following a recent 2025 budget approval. This move gives local police authority to “padlock” an unlicensed store that has been warned and hasn’t ceased illicit operations without the NY Office of Cannabis Management oversight. Padlocking includes locking up the business and fining any landlords who continue renting to them.

Viable reasons for padlocking include:

  • Sales to minors
  • Unlicensed processing of cannabis
  • Violent conduct
  • Presence of unlawful firearms
  • Proximity to schools, houses of worship, or public youth facilities
  • Products leading to illness or hospitalization
  • Products not tested or labeled according to NY Law

Unlicensed stores that aren’t in those bullet points will be inspected and notified they must stop selling unregulated weed products. Any inspections conducted before the passage of the Act can be considered a first inspection. Bodega owners and others with multiple operation licenses who don’t cease cannabis sales after that first warning may face losing their liquor and tobacco licenses as well.

Those who choose to cut the padlock and continue operating now face a Class A misdemeanor, and landlords may be subject to hefty fines of up to $50,000 if they fail to evict tenants in violation.
Shops will get a period to fix the violations and report back to avoid closure. Past efforts to clean up bad actors included fines, but this may not have been effective. THE CITY reported that very little of the $25M has been collected from dispensary operators.

A new dawn in New York weed?

With the passage of the new budget, the New York City code has been amended, giving the Office of the Sheriff immediate authority to deputize the NYPD against unlicensed cannabis shops. It also moves to create a statewide task force to seek out the companies supplying shops with products.

Assemblyperson Rajkumar is raring to go, claiming she will be raiding shops alongside the city Sheriff in the coming weeks. Her temperament is met by NYC Mayor Eric Adams, who has long asserted that if SMOKEOUT was enacted, he would clear out illicit shops within 30 days. He walked his statement back after the budget approval. Adams now believes that the NYPD will have removed a substantial number of stores in a month.

Legalizing cannabis isn’t as easy as pushing a button. It’s a complex process that may take years or decades. Look at Washington State. A decade after the first legal sale, the market continues competing with local dealers. New York City faces the same problems on a far grander scale. Unlicensed shops are far more prolific, and the city is far more dense than many other areas–it’s a big task. According to the local and state government officials, they’re ready for it.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.