NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams created a cannabis task force in 2022 to crack down on the illegal marijuana market. But since the opening of more than one thousand smoke shops in the city, there has been a spike in the sale of illegal cannabis. That has fueled a vaping epidemic.
The City Council is trying to tackle the growing proliferation of unlicensed smoke shots that have been popping up all over the city.
The City Council held a hearing as a first step to ending that.
“I feel nicotine is winning and bringing smoking back to future generations,” one member of the panel declared.
The council introduced two bills to puff out the unlicensed cannabis shops, some of which illegally sold nicotine vape products laced with chemicals or cannabis.
“We can’t let unlicensed retailers harm our children in any community with these products,” Meredith Berkman of Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes testified.
The bills call for a public awareness campaign on the dangers of buying cannabis products from unlicensed retailers. Another bill would add 311 as a complaint category to report unlicensed cannabis retailers.
“I am panicked that these illegal shops operate near schools,” Council member Gale Brewer, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told the hearing. “Some open as early as 7 a.m. It’s illegal for liquor stores, so how in the world do they end up near schools?”
Although the city banned flavored vape e-cigarettes four years ago, some products currently sold contain synthetic substances.
“Synthetic cannabis is not cannabis. It’s a dangerous mix of chemicals making health effects unpredictable,” Ricky Wong, Assistant Commissioner of Government Affairs in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, warned.
Existing laws make it challenging to close illicit shops immediately. Some get a lowball fine.
Tom Harris, President of the Times Square Alliance, has seen many illegal smoke shops open in the city’s tourist haven.
“We need to hold owners accountable for stronger laws. We also need to expand enforcement,” he told the Council hearing.
Christopher Leon Johnson testified that the city needs to deliver a powerful message to kids about the dangers of vaping from unregulated shops.
“You have to do more because kids don’t care, they don’t listen, they want to get high,” Johnson said.
City health officials said as of now, they haven’t seen any adverse health problems associated with products sold at unlicensed .stores
“Even though we haven’t seen health effects, we still want New Yorkers, if they choose to consume cannabis, to use it safely and not be fooled into a synthetic,” Ricky Wong claimed.
The City Council bills now go to committee to iron out language before going to the full body for a vote.