BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | What were they — high?
Either that or they didn’t follow all the blanket news coverage last week about the state’s second legal pot dispensary — Smacked Village — opening right around the corner from them at 144 Bleecker St.
Monday afternoon, members of the interagency Cannabis Compliance Task Force hit a handful of illegal pot shops in the Downtown area, including one at 510 LaGuardia Place, the former site of Le Souk restaurant. They seized weed and other illegal merchandise and issued cease-and-desist orders, as well as notices of violations.
It was actually the opening day of the illicit LaGuardia Place reefer retailer. Members of the Office of Cannabis Management who had been at Smacked the previous Monday to celebrate the legal store’s launch, had noticed the bogus bud shop getting ready to open right around the corner.
Along with the sheriff, local police and members of the Office of Cannabis Management were part of the enforcement on Monday. Sometimes members from other agencies, like the Department of Buildings and Fire Department, additionally take part in the actions, which are dubbed “inspections.”
Anthony Miranda, the New York City sheriff, said that seized at the LaGuardia Place location, which was busted around 6 p.m., were a total of 10 pounds of pot, including 117 packages of THC flower (bud) and 271 THC pre-rolled joints, plus 500 THC vape pens and 170 packages of THC edibles. Also confiscated were 1,040 tobacco products, along with 1,048 flavored vapes. It’s illegal to sell flavored vapes in New York because of their appeal to youths.
Miranda said the two notices of violations that were served on the LaGuardia Place store were “more for possession” of pot. O.C.M. issued the cease-and-desist order.
In addition, on Monday the task force also raided other Downtown-area unlicensed pot shops, including at 240 Canal St., 174 Hester St. and 175 Bleecker St. There was one arrest — at 174 Hester St. — for felony possession of pot, since the ganja quantity was allegedly more than 10 pounds, plus for evading cigarette tax, also a felony. According to a police spokesperson, the store had 301 packs of illegally stamped cigarettes. Cheikh Ghadour, 37, was arrested. Because the store was left unstaffed due to the enforcement, the sheriff padlocked the location with an agency lock.
Miranda said there have been 90 enforcement actions against unlicensed pot shops in New York City since the effort kicked off on Nov. 14.
“The enforcement actions are part of public safety and public health,” he explained. “We are approaching the locations with multiple agencies.”
For starters, he said, “These locations have all been packaging these products with packaging that is geared toward children. So the enforcement is very important.
“The other products are not being inspected,” he added of another risk. “They have found that the unregulated cannabis has been mixed with other ingredients that may be bad for people’s health.”
Asked if the deadly drug fentanyl has been found in marijuana sold in illegal stores, Miranda said, “There has not been a confirmed case of anything yet being laced with fentanyl. A lot of rumors — but nothing confirmed.”
Furthermore, Miranda stressed that the illegal shops are not providing the boost to the community that the legal program was designed to do.
“They created the legal cannabis business with certain benefits that come back to the community,” he noted. “These people with illegal shops are not providing the benefits that the program was meant for.”
Media reports have noted that some of the illegal store owners have cockily scoffed that they don’t care if they get raided and cleaned out — that it’s just the cost of business and they can quickly restock and continue doing business. There are reportedly up to 1,400 illegal weed shops in the city alone.
But Sheriff Miranda warned that the task force would keep hitting the stores and that the fines will mount up and that the cases will wind up in court.
“We come around at different times during the week,” he said.
He also pointed out that the New York City Sheriff’s Office is under the umbrella agency of the city’s Department of Finance, and that the next step would be to take a hard look at these store’s taxes. Seizing assets is another tool that law enforcement can wield.
“Investigators will be looking at their taxes,” he said. “Many of these businesses have only opened up in the last year.”