BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Joined by local community activists and cannabis-equity advocates, Assemblymember Grace Lee and state Senator Brian Kavanagh Thursday morning held a press conference at Ludlow and Stanton Streets to address the recent spread of illegal cannabis stores in Lower Manhattan.
They announced their effort to notify all landlords suspected to be leasing to illegal cannabis vendors in the community of their potential legal and financial liability.
New York State and New York City laws ban landlords from knowingly leasing to illegal smoke shops and subject them to various penalties, including increased fines through the cannabis policy reform legislation enacted through the state budget earlier this year. In the letter they sent to landlords, Lee and Kavanagh affirmed their commitment to work with local law enforcement, including the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, to ensure these penalties are enforced. The two pols’ letter is, in fact, a follow-up to a similar letter sent to landlords earlier this year by District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
The politicians’ initiative comes in response to the huge increase in illegal cannabis stores in Lower Manhattan since New York legalized adult-use cannabis in 2021. These stores have raised frequent safety and quality-of-life concerns from local residents, and they undermine New York’s goal to make the commercialization of cannabis equitable by prioritizing communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.
“When New York’s Legislature set out to legalize cannabis, the goal was to create a safe, regulated industry that uplifts individuals who were disproportionately harmed by its criminalization,” Lee said. “The proliferation of illegal, unlicensed stores in our community has undermined this goal — it has crowded out legal applicants and brought dangerous products and activities to our neighborhoods. Landlords are legally responsible for preventing illegal conduct on their property, and I plan to work with Senator Kavanagh and local enforcement agencies to hold them accountable. We are working to eliminate illegal cannabis stores as part of our larger effort to keep Lower Manhattan safe.”
“The legalization of cannabis marked a monumental leap forward in our pursuit of equity and justice,” Kavanagh said. “However, it is imperative that we do not regress by allowing illegal smoke shops to dominate this emerging market.
“These illicit establishments not only jeopardize public health and safety by offering untested and unregulated products, but they also deceive the public by presenting their businesses and products as licensed and authorized, when they are not,” he said. “Consequently, the closure of these operations is not only necessary but also an essential step toward realizing the full potential of New York’s legal cannabis market.”
Kavanagh said he plans to work closely with Assemblymember Lee, the Manhattan D.A., the New York Police Department, the New York City Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, along with community leaders and residents to remove unlicensed cannabis / smoke shops from the district.
“We will not allow these shops to continue to threaten the public health and safety of this community,” Kavanagh declared.
Also attending the press conference were Diem Boyd of the LES Dwellers neighborhood group, Jeannine Kiely and Patricia Laraia, both from Community Board 2, and Allie Ryan, a former City Council candidate for District 2 and a parent advocate.
So far, despite enforcement actions against them, the illegal stores’ operators typically view the fines and seizure of their marijuana merchandise merely as “the cost of doing business” — and are often back open again soon afterward. Targeting landlords in addition to merchants is seen as another way to combat the issue.
The two pols’ announcement comes as New York State is now opening up licensing for cannabis stores to all applicants — including well-funded multi-state operators. In addition, existing medical marijuana businesses will be allowed to shift more quickly to the adult-use recreational model, though it will still take about a year before that starts occurring.
The initial rollout of pot dispensaries has been limited to applicants with past marijuana criminal convictions — known as Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary, or CAURD — or those who are affiliated with qualifying nonprofit operators, like Housing Works and the Doe Fund.
But the rollout has been slow, with only around 25 stores opened statewide — and a high percentage of them in Downtown Manhattan.
On Thursday, another one of the CAURD applicant stores, Conbud, is opening on the Lower East Side at the corner of Delancey and Orchard Streets. Its owner, Coss Marte, is the brother of Lower Manhattan City Councilmember Christopher Marte. The store’s planned opening was delayed more than a month due to one of the many lawsuits being filed over the way New York State is going about the stores’ rollout.
Mar Fitzgerald, the chairperson of the Community Board 2 Cannabis Licensing Committee, said the volume of lawsuits surrounding the way the rollout is daunting.