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Lower East Side Residents Pushing Authorities to Shutter Illegal Weed Shops

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Lower East Side Residents Pushing Authorities to Shutter Illegal Weed Shops

By:  Hadassa Kalatizadeh

Over the last two years, the number of illegal cannabis shops operating in the Lower East Side have almost tripled, per a spreadsheet complied by local residents.  As reported by the NY Times, within just a few blocks from each other, there are multiple unlicensed shops open for business, selling cannabis-based intoxicants including joints, vape cartridges, rosin, THC-infused gummies, chocolates, tinctures and Diamond Shruumz bars, which are fruity cereal and cookie butter flavors containing psilocybin — a  psychedelic compound found in over 200 types of mushrooms that is illegal to possess in New York.

In 2021, a bill was passed in New York State legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing for the distribution of retail cannabis licenses.  Some 132 licenses were doled out for adult-use dispensaries across the state, with 62 in NYC, as per the Office of Cannabis Management.  Since then, however, approximately 3,000 unlicensed cannabis stores have opened across NYC alone.

The Lower East Side, which has a long history of activism and civic engagement, bore the brunt of these renegade shop openings.  Understandably, this has led to concern from local residents.  Local authorities and the Office of Cannabis Management did little to stop the unlicensed shops from operating.  So, residents in some neighborhoods created their own spreadsheet, listing the locations of about 34 unlicensed shops, then distributing the list to government officials, hoping for enforcement.

The shops listed range from open emporiums to convenience stores that also sell the illicit merchandise secretly.  All the listed locations are within a 22-square-block area– shockingly outnumbering the number of local bodegas, Laundromats and cafes in the neighborhood. Besides for selling weed, the sheet says that some of the shops sell tobacco, e-cigarettes or beer without the required permits.

“We’ve been begging for help,” said Diem Boyd, a longtime resident who has organized neighborhood efforts against bars and helped make the spreadsheet.  Many of the other residents who helped with the effort did not wish to be named for the NY Times article. One teacher, a 22-year Lower East Side resident, said he joined in helping compile the list in part because men connected to the illegal shop in his building regularly gather outside, making noise and have on occasion harassed residents. The teacher said he himself had been threatened once and that he used his phone to record another such incident, involving the men connected with the illegal shop.

The problem with enforcement now, is all that went into legalizing marijuana and the social justice concerns which allege that Black and Latino people were arrested in disproportionate numbers for decades on marijuana charges.  “The whole purpose of the law was to stop that,” said Jeffrey Hoffman, a cannabis lawyer and legalization advocate who supports closing the unlicensed shops.

The NY Times found that out of the 34 shops listed on the spreadsheet, 28 were still open in early June. Two were not opened, two more seem to have permanently shuttered, and two had recently been closed by the New York City Sheriff’s Office– which had put up big stickers on their storefront saying the store had engaged in “the unlicensed sale of cannabis and/or cannabis products.”

Mayor Eric Adams’ office said the mayor is committed to shuttering unlicensed shops, which threaten the “health and safety” of New Yorkers.  “Both the mayor and the sheriff have a long history of fighting against the criminalization of cannabis,” the statement said.

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