New York pols bet big on short-term memory loss: Promises of legal marijuana sales go up in smoke
“We expect the first 20 dispensaries to be open by the end of this year. And then every month or so, another 20,” Gov. Hochul boasted in October. “So, we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”
It’s February of the following year now and New York City has all of two legal pot stores, half a mile from each other in the Village — and one of them is a “pop-up” operation.
Whatever else can be said about Hochul, she sure hasn’t “just jammed it out there” even as hundreds of illegal sellers are operating outside of what Mayor Adams optimistically said would be as much as a $1.3 billion licensed marijuana marketplace this year — one that’s supposed to ensure that the people and communities that were punished in a long, shameful criminal war on weed get rewarded now.
Instead, the market is rewarding anyone with the cash and chutzpah to ignore the new rules and just open a shop while punishing the “justice-involved” suckers who filled out exhausting applications and are waiting in line for the licenses, leases and operating loans the state promised to supply for “the most equitable and inclusive cannabis industry in the nation” but has yet to deliver.
“There needs to be a system of not heavy-handedness, but going in and explaining to that store that, ‘Listen, you can’t do this,’ give them a warning,” Adams said last May about the city’s endlessly increasing number of illegal sellers.
“This is not going to be a city where we openly snub our noses and break the law. That is not acceptable.”
That vow, and lots of tough talk since, went up in smoke with a letter the Adams administration sent to the City Council about the task force to crack down on illegal sales he announced with fanfare in November.
After conducting 53 raids in less than two weeks, the task force led by the sheriff’s office and also including the NYPD and the state Office of Cannabis Management has conducted just 54 raids in the following two months — slowing from about five a day to less than one a day after Adams got to hold a press conference touting its work seizing “more than 100,000 illegal products” he said were worth more than $4 million.
But the letter makes clear what Adams has tried to obscure — that most of those “illegal products” were untaxed cigarettes, not pot, and that the task force hasn’t shut down a single business (rather, “all locations are able to re-open as soon as our inspection is completed”) or pursued any forfeiture actions against the property or cash proceeds of businesses making illegal pot sales.
Of the two businesses the task force eventually returned to, out of the original 53 it raided, “both were selling various contraband including illegal cannabis” again. Why wouldn’t they?
No one is getting charged for cheating the new system, and a small chance of losing inventory is a risk worth taking given the rewards, especially since illegal shops can easily undersell the competition that is paying the new pot tax and otherwise playing by the rules.
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The space between what Adams is saying and what he’s doing helps account for a poll out Wednesday showing him with a negative approval rating for the first time.
Sixty-six percent of voters said crime was a very serious concern, near the highest level since Quinnipiac started asking the question in 1999, with 41% calling crime the most urgent issue facing New York City today — more than affordable housing (17%), homelessness (12%) and inflation (8%) combined.
Fifty-seven of voters disapproved of how the mayor elected on a promise to fairly restore public safety is handling crime, and 64% said they’re very (37%) or somewhat (27%) dissatisfied with the direction the city is going in.
While Adams ended 2022 talking about how “his” NYPD had turned the corner on public safety, just 8% of voters said they felt safer than they did last year.
As with those very expensive subway announcements about how “there are NYPD officers in this station if you need their assistance” (not to mention checking their phones), the space between rhetoric and reality helps explain why, even as 59% of voters approve of legal pot sales, 69% say it’s a very (44%) or somewhat (25%) serious problem “that there are shops in New York City selling unlicensed marijuana products.”
If only there was something the mayor and governor could do to ensure this new market is actually “going to work, and be successful,” and that this is “not going to be a city where we openly snub our noses and break the law.”
Siegel ([email protected]) is an editor at The City and a columnist for the Daily News.
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