Illegal marijuana shops on Upper West Side spark councilwoman's call for action

Pedro Rivera Image
Thursday, March 14, 2024
Illegal marijuana shops on UWS spark call for action
Pedro Rivera has more on the resident's concerns.

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Zaza Waza Smoke Shop on Manhattan's Upper West Side is a perfect example of the struggles New York City is facing when it comes to cracking down on unlicensed cannabis shops.

When the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) came to shut down the facility at 87th St. and Columbus Ave. on Wednesday, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer thought progress was being made in the fight against illegal cannabis shops popping up in the area: padlocks were put on gate!

But Thursday morning, "much to our surprise, it was wide open and right back in business," Brewer said.

So the NYPD showed up minutes after they were notified and shut down the business again.

A recent survey conducted by Brewer's staff found this shop is one of 53 stores eligible to be locked up for illegal sales of tobacco and cannabis.

And that's just on the Upper West Side.

New York City reports there could be as many as 2,000 illegal shops across the five boroughs.

"This is not the only place where illegal tobacco is being sold," Brewer said. "They need more inspectors to do what was able to be done today."

According to Brewer, over the last two years Zaza Waza has been issued 47 violations by DCWP, raided six times and is facing more than $225,000 worth of fines.

Neighbors told Eyewitness News they aren't surprised to see the surge in shops.

"If you go up and down Amsterdam and Columbus, it's one or two or three on every corner," said one resident.

"They've had so many break-ins," said another. "They're cash businesses. There have been gunpoint robberies and smash-and-grabs in those stores, and there seems to be nobody policing them."

Brewer is now calling on lawmakers in Albany to increase enforcement by allowing local governments to work with the state to put out illegal smoke shops.

"Give us permission to do this kind local enforcement on a regular basis," she said.

The executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management released the following statement:

"New Yorkers want safer, tested cannabis and they value the variety of options that our market offers. Behind every store is a robust supply chain full of New York's most talented processors, farmers, microbusinesses, and entrepreneurs. To protect this budding market, Governor Hochul is right that we have to padlock shut illicit shops and we feel optimistic that the Legislature will deliver on her proposal given the scope of the problem."

As for Zaza Waza, DCWP plans on putting a new, much bigger padlock on the gate until the owners settle past violations and fines.

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