Interviews & Profiles

Going after illegal pot shops and the landlords renting to them

A Q&A with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has made headlines for prosecuting former President Donald Trump for falsifying documents and indicting New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ campaign donors, but he has also taken the lead on enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. That has involved evicting unlicensed smoke shops and fining landlords who rent their spaces to unlicensed dispensaries. Soon, he may have more power to crack down on illegal weed bodegas and their property owners.

How well is New York’s adult-use cannabis program working? 

The Manhattan DA’s Office supports legal, safe, regulated and taxed cannabis sales. Yet there are now hundreds of illegal cannabis shops in the borough. These illegal stores have an unfair advantage over the legal ones, which have gone through the appropriate licensing process and are paying taxes. That is detrimental to our public safety and public health.

What issues need to be addressed surrounding enforcement?

Last February, we joined with Mayor (Eric) Adams, his corporation counsel, the New York City sheriff, the Office of Cannabis Management and our fellow state and local elected officials to announce our partnership to combat the proliferation of illegal, unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in Manhattan. We sent letters to 400 known smoke shops in Manhattan warning them of potential eviction proceedings for unlawful cannabis sales. Specifically, the letter informed commercial entities that the office “is prepared to use its civil authority under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 715(1) to require owners and landlords to commence eviction proceedings of commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal trade or business, and to take over such eviction proceedings if necessary.”

What’s working well?

Since then, we have prioritized shutting down the unlicensed shops that have been the subject of community complaints. After identifying the most problematic stores with our community partners, the NYPD and (business improvement districts), our office contacts those landlords to inform them of the illegal activity occurring in their property. We have then used our civil authority under the Real Property Action and Proceedings Law to demand landlords in Manhattan initiate evictions. Many of them have responded to our outreach and initiated their own eviction proceedings. For those who have not responded, we are using all tools available to us to shut the stores down. We also recently brought a criminal case against the owner of 11 illegal stores, which stopped the sale of cannabis at these locations and resulted in significant fines. That case is part of our larger strategy to target owners and corporations that control multiple stores, and we currently have similar ongoing criminal investigations.

What needs to be improved? 

In addition to enforcement action, we have been aggressively working to educate landlords and the real estate industry about the proliferation of unlicensed shops. We have sent dozens of letters to landlords alerting them of the steps they can take to proactively root out these stores. We also held a joint training with the Real Estate Board of New York about best practices for landlords to evict illegal stores and ensure they are in compliance with the law.