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'We Have To Fight, They Came At Us': Empire Cannabis Plans To Sue NY State Following Police Raid

Empire Cannabis Club, an unlicensed marijuana retail chain with six stores in New York City, is planning to take legal action against state regulators.

What Happened: New York cops raided at least two marijuana stores run by the Elfand family in Manhattan, including one in the Chelsea neighborhood, earlier this month.

The NYPD and tax agents seized products worth between $50,000 to $60,000, including flower, THC-infused edibles and vaporizers, and packed them into a red van, Johnathan Elfand, one of the four owners of Empire, said at the time.

According to, cops also attempted a raid on another Empire location in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Elfand and his sister, Lenore, were both placed in handcuffs.

Why It Matters: The raid on the Elfand's business underscores a significant shift in the longstanding struggle between New York legislators and cannabis state regulators against the hundreds of illicit weed shops that are popping up across the city.

In June, the state's Office of Cannabis Management posted emergency regulations on unlicensed activities.

That move came on the heels of Governor Kathy Hochul's launch of an interagency task force including agents from the Office of Cannabis Management and the Department of Taxation and Finance to seize unlicensed marijuana products and shut down illegal shops in New York City.

What's Next: Lenore Elfand told Forbes: "We are going to court — it's time to prove our legality, what we believed all along and how we're operating under the law New York wrote. We have to fight, and now is our chance — they came at us."

Empire's other co-owners, including Lenore and his father, Ralph, insist their business legal. They argue that their shops are providing a sort of concierge service, in which its supporters pay a membership fee to access products.

Under the 2021 Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, marijuana membership clubs are considered legal due to a "safe harbor" provision for such business models. Empire has gained considerable traction since its launch in September 2021, with 120,000 active members.

Empire is seeking legal counsel from attorneys Steve Zissou and Sally Butler.

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