• Mon. May 27th, 2024

Cannabis enforcement deal is locked down in N.Y. State budget

Cannabis enforcement deal is locked down in N.Y. State budget

A legislative package boosting New York City in its battle against the estimated 2,500 unlicensed cannabis shops operating citywide has been secured in state budget negotiations, lawmakers said Wednesday.

The plan to fight illegal cannabis stores, one of the most closely watched policy elements in the state budget, would deploy a mix of tools. It would allow the city to use its Police Department to shutter illicit shops; empower the state to revoke tobacco, liquor and lottery licenses from unlicensed cannabis sellers; and establish new fines for retailers that violate padlock orders.

The package integrates blueprints proposed by legislators and Gov. Hochul. It represents a wide-ranging response by Albany to a problem that has often been laid at the Capitol’s doorstep: The rapid spread of unlicensed cannabis shops in the city, which has been spurred in part by the state’s sluggish system for licensing legal sellers. 

Based on government data, there could be 60 illegal cannabis stores for every legal retailer in the city. Many of the unlicensed shops target children and attract crime, according to officials.

“We’re sending a clear message that there will be zero tolerance for those who choose to break the law and endanger the well-being of all New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman John Zaccaro Jr., a Bronx Democrat who proposed the plan to revoke tobacco and liquor licenses from illicit pot shops.

Mayor Adams has made cannabis enforcement provisions one of his primary requests from Albany in the state budget. Negotiations on the budget have dragged more than two weeks past an April 1 deadline as Hochul and lawmakers have haggled on housing and education policy.

Hochul, a centrist Democrat, delivered an address Monday outlining a framework for a $237 billion budget deal. In her speech, she vowed the package would ensure that “both the state and localities will have the power to padlock the doors” of illicit cannabis vendors.

“This is going to take some time,” the governor acknowledged. “They won’t disappear overnight, but eventually New Yorkers will see the change they’ve been waiting for in their communities.”

The mechanisms for the crackdown emerged Wednesday, as lawmakers engaged in internal talks about the plan. The program is also intended to provide due process for shops that are padlocked, ensuring those businesses receive swift hearings if they appeal.

Legislative text in the budget will allow landlords to more easily evict stores that sell cannabis without a license, and will penalize landlords who knowingly fail to address violating shops, Zaccaro said.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, a Queens Democrat who has pushed to enhance the city’s power to shutter the unlicensed  stores, said in a statement that the budget would mark a “huge victory for public safety, common sense and the health of our children.”

“New York City will finally have the authority to shutter illegal smoke shops immediately, and utilize the full force of the NYPD to get the job done,” she added.

State lawmakers are set to start passing budget legislation on Thursday, said Mike Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly’s Democratic majority. But some issues — including a possible extension of mayoral control of schools in New York City — remained unsettled late Wednesday.

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