Number of Illegal Weed Stores Doubles Since First Survey

  Last modified on March 19th, 2024

Since Gale Brewer‘s office conducted its first survey of illegal cannabis retailers on the UWS, the situation has gotten about twice as bad.

Following the Dec. 2022 discovery of 26 illicit pot shops, Brewer said she was “…concerned that the free-for-all environment will become entrenched and undermine the law’s intent before the legal market takes shape.”


Now, with the neighborhood’s first legal dispensary getting ready to open its doors, it will be competing with a whopping 53 unlicensed stores, based on Brewer’s Feb. 2022 study. That’s a 104% increase since round one.

(This survey reviewed 89 stores between West 54th and 108th streets.)

Thirty-three of these stores are also illegally selling tobacco and e-cigarettes/banned vapes.

And, “…at least 12 of the 53 stores are already eligible for padlocking under the City Council’s 2013 Sensible Tobacco Enforcement Law,” according to a press release issued by Brewer’s office. One store, Zaza Waza Smoke Shop, was recently padlocked for a “chronic violation” of this law; since it opened in April 2022, the store has been issued 47 violations and will be closed for good “unless [the] owners pay more than $225,000 in penalties, stop selling cannabis and flavored vapes, and get licenses to sell tobacco and e-cigarettes.”

Brewer is calling for amendments to the State cannabis law, which currently preempts the City Council from creating a local civil enforcement structure. “The change we need from Albany is flexibility to pass Local Laws for civil enforcement of unlicensed retail cannabis, just like the tobacco law we enforced today,” Brewer said.

During the four weeks it took to complete the recent survey, three new illegal smoke shops opened.

Full results and an interactive map are available on Brewer’s cannabis webpage.


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