21 New Licensed Weed Shops Heading to Manhattan

With 1,400 unlicensed shops across the city, some worry about enforcement. Unlicensed smoke shops, aside from skipping out on paying taxes that the handful of legal shops must pay, have become targets for robberies and shootings, with thieves swiping both cash and cannabis. A 36-year-old man was shot and killed in an unlicensed smoke shop in Harlem on Easter Sunday.

| 11 Apr 2023 | 10:46

Twenty-one of the 99 new cannabis licenses awarded by the New York State Cannabis Control Board on April 3rd will be in Manhattan.

That is a big boost from the current four legal cannabis shops in the city that includes one pop up store in Queens and the three others concentrated in the Union Square area of Manhattan.

The licenses were awarded before the shooting death in an unlicensed weed story in Harlem on Easter Sunday.

“Thank you for making this a glorious day for all these new licensees,” said one member of the public at the April 3 hearing, who stated he was a cannabis attorney. “For my clients...truly it’s been a big day. It is a day where the injustices have now been sort of addressed, and an opportunity for them to develop intergenerational wealth and give back to their communities.”

The small number of legal shops are dwarfed by the proliferation of illegal shops across the city that have been magnets for criminal activity. Two people were murdered inside smoke shops in Harlem so far this year, including a 36 year old man shot and killed on Easter Sunday..

Members of the board briefly addressed the issue of the proliferation of unlicensed shops. There are an estimated 1,400 unlicensed cannabis shops currently in the city, and virtually the only city agency undertaking regular enforcement is the City’s Sheriff Department.

Cops said that the unlicensed smoke shop where the Harlem shooting occurred on Easter Sunday had been shut down previously but reopened days later.

Board member Chris Alexander stated, “We will continue to make enforcement a priority....that remains a key priority for this office.”

While the general mood of the meeting on April 3 was celebratory and jovial, several applicants who were still waiting for licenses spoke up about the desire for increased transparency in the application review process.

One current applicant for a license stated, “A little more transparency would be appreciated. If we email asking about the status of our application...it’s been a while and I know that you guys are reviewing...but a little more than a generic answer [would be appreciated.]”

“I’m waiting for an approval, and I just wanted you guys to see my face so you know I’m a real person,” laughed another woman who stood up to comment.

“I’ve had no feedback about my application from the time I submitted it last September...waiting around...is incredibly stressful for applicants and I believe unnecessarily so,” stated a third man whose application to open a dispensary is currently awaiting review.

“I also want to express concern about the rapidly growing sect of unlicensed shops,” he continued. He pointed out that legal dispensaries must pay taxes and myriad fees, while illegal operations are able to eschew those costs.

“Unlicensed stores will be able to avoid all of these. Aside from a few sternly worded cease and desist letters, how will the fledgling legal industry protect [us]?”

In city council hearings in January conducted by upper west side Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the top sheriff Anthony Miranda said his 160-man department was doing two or three raids a week but could only devote one day per week to the enforcement activity since the overworked department has many other responsibilities. Sources say that police at the precinct level have been told to ignore the illegal shops and only respond if there is a robbery or shooting, but generally ignore the weed on the shelves even when responding.