Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, at right, and New York Mayor...

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, at right, and New York Mayor Eric Adams said the proliferation of illegal cannabis dealers poses health risks and threatens the state's regulatory process. Credit: Marcus Santos

Manhattan's top prosecutor is threatening to evict businesses that illegally sell marijuana unless their landlords commence the eviction proceedings themselves.

Tuesday's announcement by the prosecutor, District Attorney Alvin Bragg, comes as New York State's first two legal marijuana stores opened in the Greenwich Village area in December and last month — and hundreds of other merchants, who are unlicensed, sell the drug from storefront smoke shops, in trucks, and in parks citywide.

"We want to give New York's legal cannabis market a fair chance to thrive and give New Yorkers the security of knowing that a safe, orderly system is in place for cannabis dispensaries," Bragg said at the announcement, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, with Mayor Eric Adams. 

Bragg’s office sent a letter Tuesday to more than 400 smoke shops in Manhattan warning of eviction if any illegal marijuana sales don’t end, according to spokesman Doug Cohen. The letter cites New York's Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, which requires "owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illicit trade or business."

The letter added: “In order to sell most cannabis products, you must be a licensed retailer and abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the State of New York. Failure to do so jeopardizes the health and well-being of New York City residents and undermines businesses that have legitimately obtained licenses through the state’s regulatory process.”

The state's program legalizing marijuana sales gives preference for operating licenses to people with criminal convictions for marijuana, or their families. The program, according to the state, is designed to help those “justice-involved individuals” who disproportionately suffered punishment during the war on drugs.

The law that legalized the sales in New York — which became the 15th state to do so — is meant to reinvest revenue in non-white communities affected by the drug war.

"Advocates fought hard to put racial equity at the center of New York's cannabis legalization regime," Bragg said, adding: "Those who flout the cannabis tax laws and regulations are robbing the very communities that suffered from marijuana criminalization for decades."

The legal shops pay taxes, enforce the minimum age for purchase (21 years) and ensure that the product is legitimate. Adams said that it's possible that illegally sold marijuana could be laced with substances such as fentanyl, but later conceded he wasn't sure that was happening.

Asked why New York State hasn't simply given more licenses at a faster pace beyond just the handful issued so far, the head of the state's cannabis management office, Chris Alexander, said: "We've been rolling out our licenses, but we're doing so in a way that the law dictates — making sure that those who have been impacted have an opportunity to go first." 

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