New York City took a significant step toward tackling the rampant unlicensed cannabis shops issue. The city’s latest enforcement initiative, “Operation Padlock,” has been substantially successful even in its first week, closing 75 illegal weed establishments. The crackdown, spearheaded by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, is a response to the rise in illegal cannabis dispensaries that began to spread after the state legalized marijuana in 2021. 

At a City Hall briefing, Mayor Adams addressed the public and emphasized the importance of Operation Padlock. He expressed that the initiative is just the beginning of efforts to regulate the parameters of cannabis shops’ legality. The crackdown, led by the city’s Sheriff’s Office, was able to go into effect due to recent legislative changes that granted the city expanded enforcement powers. Through the legislation, the city was given the authority to shut down illegal weed shops without the need for state approval. Initially, Mayor Adams had promised swift and decisive action to close all unlicensed cannabis shops in the city within 30 days of the approved legislative change. His expectations were later adjusted, however, as he shifted his aim toward using that timeframe to make a substantial dent in the number of illicit shops. 

The enforcement operation inspected 150 unlicensed locations, which resulted in 77 cease-and-desist orders and nearly 3,878 counts of violations across various city agencies. The inspections targeted shops selling cannabis, THC edibles, THC vape products, untaxed cigarettes, flavored tobacco, and other tobacco products. 

Ushering in costly ramifications for the operators of illegal cannabis establishments, the first wave of closures resulted in nearly $6 million in penalties. The shuttered shops’ specific locations were not immediately made public, and a spokesperson for Adam’s office did not offer a precise number of shops targeted for closure each week. The disclosed information revealed that 15 teams would be deployed across the city daily to carry out the closure operations. In an act of heightened diligence, the teams are also tasked with monitoring previously shuttered establishments to ensure they remain closed.

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The initiative has faced challenges, particularly concerning processing cannabis enforcement cases in court. Under the new enforcement authorities, the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, known as OATH, must adjudicate any weed shop padlock case within five days. Dealing with backlogs extended OATH’s adjudication time to 12 days rather than five, leading OATH Commissioner Asim Rehman to declare that the agency is actively hiring additional staff to handle the increased workload. The sought-after staff roles include judicial hearing officers, attorneys, and support staff. 

Operation Padlock has garnered attention and support from various community stakeholders, addressing the concerns of parents, businesses, elected officials, and criminal justice advocates. Concerned about the negative impact of illegal cannabis shops on neighborhoods and their proximity to schools and places of worship, U.S. Representative Dan Goldman acknowledged the added risks that unlicensed shops pose. Goldman notes that they undermine the time and resources of those who obtain legal licenses through above-board avenues. Similarly, U.S. Representative Nicole Malliotakis championed the importance of regulating cannabis products to ensure public health and safety first and foremost. 

NYC residents have appreciated the proactive stance that Mayor Adams’ administration has taken on the issue. Operation Padlock continues to represent a concerted effort to eliminate illegal cannabis shops and establish a regulated, safe, and legal cannabis market, creating a more secure cannabis environment in the city that never sleeps.