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New York City council members are calling a new law that fines landlords leasing space to illegal weed shops a “game changer.” It’s in response to what members called an “explosion” of unlicensed smoke shops opening up across the city.
“We have an obligation to protect a healthy, legal cannabis market and to ensure that the industry meets its equity goals,” said Council member Carlina Rivera, who represents Lower Manhattan, while speaking outside Union Square Travel Agency Cannabis, a legal dispensary on East 13th Street.
The city is home to an estimated 2,000 illegal cannabis shops. Council members say they hope this law will make it easier to shut them down than previously under the 2017 “nuisance abatement” law which was used to remove adult retail stores from Times Square.
“They prevent licensed sellers like this one here from opening legitimate business,” said Council member Lynn Schulman who sponsored the new law. “They rob the city of much-needed tax revenue to pay for essential programs and services.”
Under this new law, which took effect last month, commercial landlords could be fined up to $10,000 if they knowingly lease space to illegal cannabis sellers or do not make a good faith effort to evict them. The NYPD will partner with the Department of Finance and NYC Sheriffs’ Department to find illegal sellers and communicate with landlords.
Steve Soutendijk, who represents retailers in the Real Estate Board of New York, joined lawmakers in calling illegal cannabis shops a nuisance.
“The REBNY model retail lease explicitly states that space cannot be utilized illegally, and we strongly condemn any property owner who knowingly leases any property for an illegal or illicit use,” he said.
According to lawmakers, the process could take several months to set up. Landlords renting to unlicensed cannabis shops will first get a letter from the city followed by an inspection and a second warning.
“Then after that, then they get fined,” Schulman said.