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Video Of NYC Cops’ Marijuana Raid Raises Questions About Mayor’s Enforcement Offensive



“This is restarting the war on drugs under the guise of a civil process.”

By Rosalind Adams, THE CITY

As a new mayoral task force conducts sweeps of hundreds of shops suspected of selling illegal weed, a video of a raid on a Staten Island store obtained by THE CITY captures how enlisting police to conduct regulatory inspections can lead to criminal charges, igniting concerns about potential due process violations.

The 90-second clip taken from a store surveillance camera on May 18 shows seven uniformed law enforcement officers, most of them in NYPD gear, cursing, jumping over the store counter and charging at a shopkeeper after he asked them for a court order before opening the door to the back of the store.

Instead, the man was cuffed—before any unlicensed cannabis products were found—and taken to a local precinct where he was charged with obstruction of justice, records show.

“When a cop tells you to do something, you fucking do it,” one officer told the shopkeeper.

The surveillance video was shared with THE CITY on the condition that the identity of the shopkeeper be protected. The arrest and criminal charge was confirmed by police records.

The shopkeeper’s lawyer, Steve Zissou, told THE CITY that the video shows both due process violations and personal civil rights violations.

“Asking for a court order is not an obstruction of justice,” Zissou said, adding that the shopkeeper was asserting his constitutional rights. “This is restarting the war on drugs under the guise of a civil process.”

Liz Garcia, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, told THE CITY, “we will examine this video in the course of the city’s continuing review of inspection and enforcement protocols.”

She defended the mayor’s new enforcement initiative, as one that would “close down illegal cannabis and smoke shops to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from exposure to illegal cannabis and smoke shops and better support the legal cannabis market by allowing justice-impacted cannabis business owners to thrive.”

The regulatory inspection process was outlined in the 2021 state law legalizing cannabis use. A section of that law enshrines the right of individuals to refuse a regulatory inspection, though subjects them to a civil fine if they do so. Once a regulatory inspection is refused, then the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) or its board must request a court order, the law says.

Last May, Governor Kathy Hochul expanded the state’s enforcement powers from the 2021 law, empowering OCM and the Department of Taxation and Finance to enter unlicensed cannabis establishments, seize products and get a court order to padlock shops shut.

But over the last year, the legislation did little to curb the number of illegal stores. The state agencies did not have the resources to inspect a significant number of unlicensed stores as they continued to proliferate around the city. And when products were seized from unlicensed cannabis shops, the stores often reopened the next day.

In April, Hochul expanded the state’s enforcement powers again, this time authorizing local jurisdictions to conduct regulatory inspections, adding more manpower behind the state agencies. It also made it easier to padlock stores after one inspection, rather than seeking a court order.

Empowered by the legislation, Adams last month formed a task force of NYPD officers, the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection as part of his enforcement effort, called Operation Padlock to Protect.

As of May 29, the task force has completed 329 inspections, padlocked 224 stores and issued 231 cease and desist orders, the mayor’s office said. The move comes as the number of unlicensed shops in New York City has exploded since legalization. Officials estimate there are 2,800 unlicensed shops in the city. By comparison, there are 58 legal shops within the five boroughs.

But the involvement of police officers as part of regulatory inspections has already broadly drawn some worry from city public defenders.

“We’re concerned that with the NYPD being the agency that’s now conducting lockouts, more people will be arrested as a result and then subject to contact with the criminal legal system,” said Jackie Gosdigian, supervising policy counsel with the Brooklyn Public Defenders.

It is clear that the initiative has begun to curb the number of unlicensed stores in the city. Some smoke shops have started keeping cannabis products off-site in case they’re inspected, only bringing them to the counter after a customer asks for a specific product. Others have moved to delivery-only service. Still others have decided to close altogether, saying it wasn’t worth the risk to operate anymore.

The Staten Island incident highlights how quickly an inspection can escalate from a regulatory matter into a criminal matter once NYPD are involved. The Office of Cannabis Management, which is still completing its own inspections alongside local jurisdictions, does not have the power to arrest or charge shopkeepers who refuse access to the back of a store, for example.

Joseph Bondy, a cannabis lawyer who has represented some unlicensed shops in administrative hearings, said the Staten Island arrest is part of a larger pattern unfolding in these inspections. Lawyers like Bondy and Zissou argue that the new legislation does not erase the provision in the 2021 law that allows merchants to refuse an inspection and does not  permit searches and seizures without a warrant.

“Many of these merchants are having their rights violated,” said Bondy, who also serves as vice chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group.

Despite legislation expanding the state’s enforcement ability, “it doesn’t supersede the Constitution, and it certainly doesn’t authorize someone to break into a closed store for the purpose of conducting the inspection that would trigger the seizure,” he added.

In the video of the Staten Island raid, the shopkeeper denies having any cannabis for sale when asked whether the store carries Stiizy products, a well-known California brand.

“These days we just don’t want problems, you know?” the clerk said.

Seconds later, the group of officers entered the store and asked to be let into the back of the shop. The clerk asked several times to see a court order. Officers warned he was obstructing justice, then jumped the counter and handcuffed him.

“You’ll go to jail for that,” an officer told him, according to the surveillance footage.

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” a second officer said.

“I did nothing wrong,” the shopkeeper replied.

Police later found less than a pound of cannabis products in the back of the store and padlocked the shop.

The governor’s office declined to answer specific questions about the arrest of a shopkeeper.

“Governor Hochul fought for major legislation to shut down illicit cannabis shops that gives localities the enforcement tools they need while putting important guardrails in place to protect the rights of New Yorkers,” a spokesperson for the governor, Justin Henry, said in a statement.

The Office of Cannabis Management deferred to the statement from Hochul’s office.

The store clerk is scheduled to appear in criminal court on Staten Island next Friday.

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