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Cannabis Watch: New York raids illegal cannabis shops ahead of plans to issue licenses

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In a city known for its entrepreneurial skills, it’s no wonder that New York has seen an explosion of stores openly selling cannabis even though the state has yet to issue licenses.

While the state has been working to set up a regulatory structure, accept applications for cannabis businesses and review them, stores selling pot cigarettes and dried flower have sprung up all over the Big Apple and other parts of the state.

With New York’s Office of Cannabis Management about to issue the first cannabis business licenses in state history, authorities are moving to reduce competition from illegal shops that sell unregulated cannabis.

Also Read: New York poised to award first retail cannabis licenses to drug war casualties instead of big incumbents

Law enforcement authorities raided an unlicensed vape and cannabis shop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, called Big Chief. Police and made two arrests, according to reports this week.

The New York City Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the Office of Cannabis Management and the New York Police Department all took part in the action against Big Chief, which had applied for a license for the state’s upcoming awarding of permits to operate cannabis stores.

Police confiscated plastic bags and jars of cannabis, as well as vape products and edibles, as shown on this video.

Damian Fagon, chief equity officer with the New York Office of Cannabis Management, told Fox 5 New York that businesses that jump the gun on opening retail cannabis stores will not get licenses.

“It will be a multi-billion dollar industry that they will not be a part of because of mistakes that they’re making right now,” said Fagon.

Meanwhile, Leafly reported another bust in Manhattan at Lush Smoke Shop in Greenwich Village.

Brooklyn City Council member Justin Brannan told Fox 5 New York that the businesses clearly violate the law even though cannabis itself is allowed.

“If I sell untaxed cigarettes — that’s illegal,” Brannan said. “If I sell liquor or I serve liquor or wine without a liquor license — that’s illegal. Right now [if] you’re selling recreational marijuana in a retail setting, that’s illegal.”

The state also is working to avoid mistakes in other states such as California, where consumers often buy cannabis from the unregulated and illegal market. Meanwhile, the price of cannabis has been dropping across the U.S. amid oversupply and competition among legal and illegal growers.

Also Read: Amid steep inflation, one thing is getting cheaper: cannabis

New York City Mayor Eric Adams sparked unregulated cannabis market activity by proclaiming earlier this year that police would issue warnings to stores and avoid “heavy handedness.”

Adams also proposed the city use $5 million to support New Yorkers on applications for cannabis retail and cultivation licenses.

But legal cannabis businesses already selling medical cannabis as well as elected officials have been raising objections to the illegal trade.

Meanwhile, the state’s move to issue licenses has hit a partial legal roadblock at the moment.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe last week temporarily blocked the state from issuing about 63 of the 150 licenses in Brooklyn and parts of update New York cited in the Variscite NY One lawsuit.

Sharpe’s ruling said New York’s application structure “will have a discriminatory effect on out-of-state residents,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

Also Read: Federal judge shuts down New York State cannabis license rollout in some regions

Some of the first licenses from New York are expected to be issued by Nov. 21, Axel Bernabe, chief of staff and senior policy director of the Office of Cannabis Management said in an interview Wednesday.

Bernabe declined to comment on the lawsuit in federal court, but said the office will issue licenses to areas unaffected by Judge Sharpe’s action as soon as next week.

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