New Law Targets Landlords of Unlicensed Smoke Shops

Councilmember Lynn Schulman alongside Assistant Chief James Mccarthy of Manhattan South, Senior Advisor to Union Square Travel Agency, Robert Cornegy, and Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Photo courtesy of Councilmember Schulman’s office.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

New legislation passed by the city council last month is seeking to hold landlords, not business owners, accountable for the unlicensed sale of cannabis under their roof. 

The city estimates that there are 8,000 smoke shops, 2,000 of which sell cannabis products, operating illegally across all five boroughs. So far there are only a handful of licensed cannabis dispensaries approved by the state – the majority are located in lower Manhattan. Good Grades in Jamaica is the only cannabis shop operating legally in Queens. 

Intro 1001-B, first introduced by Councilmember Lynn Schulman in April, prohibits knowingly leasing a commercial space to a tenant who will utilize it for the distribution or sale of illicit cannabis or tobacco products without a license. Landlords can face a $5,000 civil penalty at first, and a $10,000 penalty for each subsequent violation, if they do not cease the operation. 

“This legislation is a game changer and adds another tool to the enforcement toolbox against these harmful businesses,” said Councilmember Schulman at the press conference outside the Union Square Travel Agency Cannabis Dispensary in the East Village. It served as a formal announcement of the legislation which was adopted on July 23.  

“We stand here today because we have an obligation to protect a healthy legal cannabis market and ensure that the industry meets its equity goals,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who also pointed out that those who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs have priority to receive Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses. In legal shops, there is also a 13 percent sales tax that goes towards community reinvestments. 

Councilmember Carina Rivera has several legal cannabis dispensaries in her district. Photo courtesy of Councilmember Schulman’s office.

Officials believe that the illicit market of unregulated products undermines those who took the rigorous legal route of securing a license through the state, as well as the social justice element of cannabis legalization. There is also a health risk to the public when consuming substances that are not officially tested and regulated. 

“As you can imagine having in close proximity to here so many illegal shops, it flies in the face of consumer safety, because we don’t know what’s in those products,” said Robert Cornegy, Senior Advisor to the Union Square Travel Agency, and former Councilman. “Our products here are tested by the state and have been proven to be safe for consumption.”

“If a space is being utilized illegally, and an owner is aware, it is appropriate for that owner to be penalized along with others who are knowingly involved in the arrangement,” said Steve Soutendijk, Co-Chair of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Retail Committee. 

Schulman also mentioned that in Forest Hills, which falls in her district, there are several cannabis shops operating illegally. 

“Illegal smoke and cannabis shops have been an ongoing challenge in our communities,” said Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, Chair of Queens Community Board 6 which encompasses Forest Hills and Rego Park. “It is important to protect our community from businesses selling adulterated cannabis, to protect our city from the theft of tax dollars, and to protect future regulated cannabis shops that continue to open throughout our borough.”

Smoke Shop Where Murder Occurred Closed Permanently 

The corner store on Jamaica Ave. illegally advertises the sale of THC products. Photo credit: State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s Office

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected] 

An illegal smoke shop on Jamaica Ave in Richmond Hill, where an employee was murdered during a daytime robbery in March, was permanently shut down last week. 

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. announced that he worked closely with community members and the NYPD to get Plug Smoke Shop, which he referred to as a “blight in the district,” to close shop for good. Addabbo says his office received many complaints about the illegal and unregulated sale of cannabis products at the corner shop. Currently Queens only has one legal cannabis dispensary – Good Grades on Jamaica Ave – and over 200 shops operating illegally in the borough.

“These illegal pot sellers have no business in our community, and it takes a team effort to address this pervasive problem,” said Addabbo in a press release. “The Plug Smoke Shop was not only operating illegally, but a fatal shooting also took place there this year. It needed to go, and now thanks to our diligent efforts, hopefully it’s gone for good. I remain diligent and optimistic that with the credible efforts of the NYPD and community residents, other illegal pot shops can experience the same fate and be closed forever.”

Three men, one armed with a gun, entered the shop around noon on March 18. According to police, two unarmed men loaded up merchandise, and on the way out, the armed perpetrator fired at the store employee. Daryus Clarke, a 20-year-old St. Albans resident was shot in the chest and transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. 

Photo credit: State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s Office

Addabbo said that he was under the impression that the business stayed closed following a court order on June 7, 2023. But he was “disturbed” to learn that the shop illegally reopened at the Richmond Hill Block Association meeting on June 28. He continued to work with members of the 102nd precinct to have the owner arrested and ensure the shop would be closed for good. 

Senator Addabbo says that he is monitoring the influx of illegal smoke shops in his district and has a team member dedicated to addressing the issue. 

Weed Dispensary Planned For Middle Village

The site of the proposed location on Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village.

By Alicia Venter | [email protected]

An application is set to be filed for a legal cannabis dispensary at 74-03 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, Queens Community Board 5 announced in a press release.

The community board was notified that the entity, The Cannabis Place, intends to file an application for a cannabis dispensary with the N.Y. State Office of Cannabis Management.

A public hearing is set for during Community Board 5’s upcoming monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Christ the King High School (68-02 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village).

There is currently one in-person legal cannabis dispensary in Queens as of publication: Good Grades, LLC in Jamaica. In total, there are nine brick-and-mortar legal dispensaries across the five boroughs, and three temporary delivery locations.

State Senator Joe Addabbo, who represents parts of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Middle Village, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, is looking into the issue, according to his office, and will have a representative at the community board meeting.

Local councilman Robert Holden declined to comment by press time.

Other issues on the monthly meeting agenda include the Proposed City of Yes Carbon Neutrality Citywide Zoning Text Amendment, which states that the New York City Department of City Planning seeks to modernize the city’s Zoning Resolution.

It aims to help the city reach its goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 through removing obstacles for the installation of green technology, such as supporting electric vehicles, according to the department’s website.

For more information or to register to speak at the monthly meeting, call the board’s office at 718-366-1834 or email at [email protected]. Speakers must register prior to the meeting’s start, and are allotted two to three minutes, depending on the number of speakers.

The meeting will be livestreamed via YouTube and can be found following the meeting on the community board’s website.

State’s First Woman-Owned Marijuana Dispensary Opens in Jamaica

Customers chose from a variety of strains all grown locally by New York’s farmers.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

With a line of eager customers stretched around the block, the first legal adult-use cannabis dispensary in Queens opened its doors on Thursday afternoon. 

Good Grades, located on the corner of Jamaica Ave and 162 St., is a woman-owned recreational marijuana business — the first of its kind in the state and city. The owners were selected as some of the first applicants to receive a retail license in an attempt to counter the detrimental effects of cannabis prohibition that their family experienced firsthand. 

This marks a new beginning for co-owners, Extasy James and her cousin Michael James, Jr., a Jamaica, Queens native. Extasy’s father was deported to Jamaica when she was three- years-old following a cannabis-related criminal conviction. Being the eldest daughter of four children, she says that the responsibility of carrying her family forward fell on her shoulders. 

“I think the city is giving families a second chance and as African Americans, we’ve been targeted the most,” said Extasy, who was born and raised in the Bronx, during the grand opening. 

The store will remain open for 30 days as a “pop-up” shop and then close for final construction. The location will reopen permanently by the end of the year. In the meantime, various strains of flower, prerolls and edibles are available for purchase. 

“This new endeavor is a significant milestone for our family, hometown and women in New York,” said James, Jr. who is also an attorney that works with minority small business owners. 

A Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) license is designated for business owners that were implicated, or had a close family member impacted, by the long-standing criminalization of cannabis. By giving justice-involved owners priority in receiving the first retail licenses, the state hopes to build an equitable foundation for its novel legal marijuana industry. 

“​​I think this has been a long time coming for Queens,” said John Panella, 73, who has been smoking marijuana since he was 16-years old. He was one of the first customers on line, arriving an hour before the store opened. “They seem to be opening up cannabis places in New York City at a snail’s pace.”

Several waiting customers expressed that obtaining weed in the city prior to legalization was never difficult. But without governmental regulation, customers worried about the source of the plant and whether harmful chemicals, pesticides, or even fentanyl were in the mix. 

Ming Gaffney, a 33-year old Hollis resident, said that she doesn’t mind paying a higher price for products if it brings her peace of mind knowing where they came from. She was also proud to support a woman owned business. 

“With the opening of Good Grades in Queens, we’re continuing to build on our progress to create a safe, regulated cannabis industry in New York,” said Governor Kathy Hochul.

All legal dispensaries in the state will only sell products that are cultivated by New York’s farmers within the state. Flowerhouse, cultivated in upstate Walden, NY, is one company whose flower products are sold at Good Grades.  

Since legalization hit the state, a wave of smoke shops that also sell cannabis products without a license have popped up across the city. At the end of January, the Sheriff’s office raided three smoke shops in Queens, two in Whitestone, and confiscated millions of dollars in products. 

In neighboring Richmond Hill, a 20-year-old employee at Plug Smoke Shop was shot and killed during a daytime robbery last month. The store was open for less than a year.

Extasy declined to comment on the unlicensed sale of marijuana in neighboring smoke shops. Instead, she wanted to focus on how the legalized route can serve as an inspiration for the community.

“I want everybody to know that you can have a second chance, if your family or anybody else was wrongly convicted or jailed, you can reunite your family and you can make something of yourself,” she said.

 

Pol Position: Legalizing Cannabis

The rapid legalization of marijuana in New York State is creating some interesting discussions about the potential growth of the marketplace and how and where it can be consumed.

A little history on how it began

Prohibition of marijuana began as early as the 1930s, at a time when there was very little known about the plant’s medicinal and recreational uses. Media mogul William Randolph Hearst, whose empire of newspapers pioneered the use of “yellow journalism,” led the effort to demonize the cannabis plant by funding heavily propagandized and often racially prejudiced material, such as the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” which exaggerates the events surrounding a group of high school students who are introduced to weed for the first time.
It is largely believed that his tirade to destroy the hemp industry was due to the fact that it produced a cheap substitute for the traditional wood pulp that was used by the industry at the time. However, few were actually aware that it was not the plant itself, but the THC byproduct, that when smoked would create the intoxicating effect that Hearst other elite industrial families helped make illegal.

What really happened…

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was drafted by Harry J. Anslinger, who claimed that cannabis caused people to commit violent crimes and act irrationally. This law essentially made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal through the imposition of a tax on all sales of hemp.
Then in 1970, the Supreme Court deemed the act to be unconstitutional in its violation of the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.
New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller was elected to office on the campaign promise of being “tough on crime” and in May 1973 he did just that, calling for mandatory sentences of 15 years to life for the sale or possession of narcotics, including those caught with small amounts of pot.

Since 1995, there have been more than 17 million marijuana-related arrests made, including an estimated 545,602 made in 2019 – significantly more than for all violent crimes combined.

This continues to be a major contributor to the overcrowding within our prison system. It also helped create the systemic abuse of the law to leverage the unfair incarceration of those coming from lower-class and impoverished communities.

New York did not reform these regulations until 2009 when NYS Governor David A. Paterson introduced legislation that rolled back excessive sentencing statutes and restored power to judges in regard to first-time, nonviolent drug offenders.

Will New York follow in Jersey’s footsteps?

While there is a possibility that New York could finally permit the sale of recreational-use marijuana, the recent legalization of recreational use marijuana has not created the anticipated rush of customers everyone was expecting.

The recreational sale of marijuana is still prohibited in New York, but thanks to the efforts of our neighboring states, many believe state lawmakers will soon follow suit.

Should they not, however, legislation remains on the table that could potentially decriminalize the use of marijuana on a federal level.

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