Illegal marijuana sales often begin under the guise of tobacco shops. This strategy allows operators to avoid significant legal pushback due to the current lack of prosecution for low-level marijuana-related offenses.
In March 2023, Mayor Spano approved city legislation that updated its public nuisance abatement law to specifically address illegal marijuana distribution. This came after a growing number of smoke shop raids that discovered caches of illegal cannabis products. The problem is so widespread in the city that the Yonkers Police Department created a specialized team called, “City of Yonkers Smoke Shop Task Force.” The updated public nuisance law created a points system to hold shop owners accountable, allowing police to shut down an establishment and impose heavier fines on anyone accumulating more than six points within a 12-month period.
The new restriction
However, on Wednesday, the city administration went even further. Mayor Mike Spano signed an executive order instituting a temporary moratorium on new tobacco shops in Yonkers. The moratorium goes into effect immediately and will last until November 1, 2023.
The mayor expressed support for legal adult use of marijuana, but he blames the New York State Office of Cannabis Management for taking too long to finalize permits and provide clarity on enforcement and guidelines. Earlier this year, the state issued its first adult-use marijuana retail store permit to a Yonkers resident. That store has yet to open.
While supporting this new moratorium, Council member Anthony Merante wishes to see even tougher restrictions. In a quote provided to The Yonkers Ledger, Merante is upholding his “tough on crime” messaging.
This is a great first step, however in my opinion, it does not go far enough. There are no businesses in Yonkers authorized by NYS to sell cannabis. Any smoke shop found to be selling it should be given a first warning. If they persist their license should be revoked, store closed, and merchandise seized. This will quickly send a message to others letting them know Yonkers is going to get tough with law breakers. Unless there are severe consequences for these merchants, they will continue to violate the law.
Other council members like Majority Leader Tasha Diaz, Minority Leader Mike Breen, and John Rubbo, supported the current measure. And Police Commissioner Sapienza also pointed to Albany saying, “Until laws and regulations are updated on the State level […], we will be forced to take the appropriate action locally to protect our community.”