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NYS can go after illegal pot shops under emergency regulations: But will they?

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  • Staff Report 

Emergency regulations that have been in effect for five months grant the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) authority to take action against illegal cannabis shops, despite recent claims by lawmakers and law enforcement officials of insufficient power to regulate the underground market. Passed by the state’s Cannabis Control Board in November and renewed earlier this month, these regulations empower the OCM to seize cannabis and cannabis products from unlicensed entities and require them to cease all cannabis-related activity.

The OCM also has the power to refer investigations to the state Department of Taxation and Finance, district attorneys, or other enforcement agencies. Penalties under the emergency rule could range from $50 to $10,000 fines and may include criminal offenses under state cannabis and tax laws. These regulations appear to contradict Governor Kathy Hochul’s recent statements regarding the lack of authority for individuals from the OCM or the state tax and finance office to enforce laws.

Hochul is proposing a misdemeanor offense for those evading tax laws related to illegal cannabis sales, providing clear authority to shut down illegal shops. While an agreement with state lawmakers is reportedly in place, discussions on the details continue. Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie emphasized the importance of shutting down illegal pot shops to allow the cannabis industry to grow.

The OCM, New York City Sheriff’s Office, and local police recently collaborated in an investigation that led to the arrest of two Queens store clerks for possession of cannabis and untaxed cigarettes. State and city officials estimate that New York City has approximately 1,500 illegal pot shops, compared to five fully licensed, open-for-business shops that have undergone a comprehensive regulatory process.