Illegal Weed Is a Public Health Issue in New York, Lawmaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- New York’s illicit marijuana market has become a public health threat, state Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said at a public hearing, citing sales to minors and shootings outside dispensaries.

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“This is a public health issue, particularly for young people. Does it not deserve a more expedited process for addressing the illegal shops?” Hoylman-Sigal said during a joint hearing of the New York State Senate.

The criticism adds to the pressure that’s built up on New York’s Office of Cannabis Management. The state’s nascent cannabis market, as well as its regulator, have been criticized as unlicensed vendors undercut the handful of licensed stores. Such shops have been slow to open due to a licensing effort that has sought to distribute social equity to communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.

In response, Chris Alexander, executive director of New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, said that sales to minors are a felony, adding the regulator is planning to hire around 100 more staff to its current roster of 150 to deal with the illicit shops. He estimated that around $50 million worth of illicit cannabis has been seized from inspections of around 300 shops. More legal shops need to be opened to stop the illicit shops and the unregulated, untested marijuana that they sell, he said.

Another problem that surfaced at the hearing are the roughly 30,000 pounds of unsold raw marijuana. The high potency levels of some of the marijuana products sold in stores, and whether there is enough warning to consumers about the potential effects of high THC levels, was also discussed.

Lawmakers also complained about illegal stores’ ability to rapidly reopen after being shut down. The state regulator recently said it’s stepping up enforcement of $20,000-per-day fines on unlicensed stores.

New York represents one of the biggest cannabis markets in the US, so its struggles are being closely watched by the industry.

See Also: New York Pot Regulator Seeks 1,500 New Licenses to Sell Surplus

Daniel Haughney, director of investigations at the cannabis regulator, said that recent shootings speak to safety concerns the regulator needs to address when it goes into inspect a location that may be selling illegal marijuana.

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