The New York City Council is taking on the problem of unlicensed smoking shops

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) — The recent explosion in the number of unlicensed smoke shops across New York City has drawn the attention of city lawmakers.

Smoking marijuana has been legal in New York for almost two years. To keep up with demand, storefronts are exploding across the city.

Authorities now estimate that about 1,400 stores in the five counties sell marijuana, virtually all of them illegally.

That practice, along with safety issues related to tobacco and electronic cigarettes, prompted joint oversight by New York City Council oversight committees on Wednesday & investigations, consumers & Occupational Health and Safety.

Manhattan City Council member Gale Brewer bitterly complained on social media. On Wednesday, she and her colleagues chaired a hearing at City Hall.

“To say smoke shops are widespread is an understatement,” Brewer said.

The city has also learned that shutting down illegal businesses isn’t as easy as it seems.

“You must be found guilty. They have up to 90 days to address violations addressed to them,” New York Sheriff Anthony Miranda said.

Miranda told the council that the process often takes months, despite what he described as increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts.

“Every person is entitled to due process, whether found guilty or not,” Miranda said.

To make matters worse, more and more smoking shops are being robbed.

A worker was shot dead at an unlicensed shop in Hell’s Kitchen late Tuesday night.

“We raised some fears by deploying personnel and more cars and our aviation unit, which resulted in significant arrests,” NYPD Patrol Division Chief John Chell said.

Housing Works in Greenwich Village is the only place in the state where the sale of marijuana is legal.

Paula Collins is an attorney who works with unlicensed shopkeepers.

“Most smoke shop owners would like to get a license. I get calls every day,” Collins said.

She says the state is still drafting regulations.

“We went a good year, if not longer, 14 to 16 months without any enforcement,” Collins said. “And so other stores followed suit and were like, ‘Well, you know, if they have marijuana out the door, why don’t we?'”

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