Manhattan DA Bragg leading crackdown on illegal cannabis stores and the landlords who own them

 January 23, 2024

New York legalized recreational marijuana sales a few years ago but has been slow in issuing licenses for legal weed shops to operate, which has resulted in the opening or continued operation of illicit and unlicensed smoke shops throughout New York City's five boroughs and across the state.

In Manhattan, District Attorney Alvin Bragg is leading a crackdown on "illegal pot shops" and, in some instances, is even going after the landlords who own and rent out the storefronts being used illicitly to dispense unlicensed marijuana, according to the City & State NY media outlet.

City cracking down on illegal and unlicensed weed stores

In a recent interview, Manhattan DA Bragg insisted that his office "supports legal, safe, regulated, and taxed cannabis sales" but noted the presence of "hundreds of illegal cannabis shops" within the borough that enjoy an "unfair advantage" over the legal shops that gone through the appropriate licensing process and are paying taxes."

"That is detrimental to our public safety and public health," he said.

As for what was being done to address the issue, Bragg referenced a partnership entered into nearly a year ago with New York City's mayor and other elected officials and law enforcement to "combat the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in Manhattan."

To date, warning letters have been sent to the owners and operators of more than 400 illegal weed shops in the borough to inform them of the possibility that they could face eviction if the illicit activity continues.

Those letters state, in part, that the DA's office "is prepared to use its civil authority under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 715(1) to require owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal trade or business, and to take over such eviction proceedings if necessary."

Landlords of illicit pot shops also targeted

In the City & State interview, asked about what was "working well" with the announced partnership, DA Bragg revealed that his office has "prioritized shutting down the unlicensed shops that have been the subject of community complaints," primarily focusing on the "most problematic stores" and informing the landlords of those properties of the illegal activity that was occurring.

"We have then used our civil authority under the Real Property Action and Proceedings Law to demand landlords in Manhattan initiate evictions. Many of them have responded to our outreach and initiated their own eviction proceedings," he said. "For those who have not responded, we are using all tools available to us to shut the stores down."

"We also recently brought a criminal case against the owner of 11 illegal stores, which stopped the sale of cannabis at these locations and resulted in significant fines," the prosecutor added. "That case is part of our larger strategy to target owners and corporations that control multiple stores, and we currently have similar ongoing criminal investigations."

According to a July 2023 Associated Press report, the owner of those illegal pot shops, Rami Alzandani, entered into a non-prosecution agreement that allowed him to avoid criminal charges and continue operating the storefronts, albeit with a promise to no longer engage in the cannabis industry and a requirement that he pay $103,000 in restitution and back taxes plus forfeit $300,000 in illicit proceeds from the unlicensed sales of marijuana.

State needs to get its cut of the lucrative cannabis sales revenue

As for areas that still need improvement, DA Bragg told the City & State outlet, "In addition to enforcement action, we have been aggressively working to educate landlords and the real estate industry about the proliferation of unlicensed shops."

"We have sent dozens of letters to landlords alerting them of the steps they can take to proactively root out these stores," he added. "We also held a joint training with the Real Estate Board of New York about best practices for landlords to evict illegal stores and ensure they are in compliance with the law."

The whole point of legalized recreational marijuana is to try to introduce some measure of safety and consistency in the potentially lucrative cannabis market -- and perhaps most importantly for the state to garner a cut of the revenues generated -- but all of that is substantially undermined by the continued operation of illegal and unlicensed pot shops and weed sales.

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