NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The recent explosion in the number of unlicensed smoke shops across New York City has drawn the attention of city lawmakers.
Smoking marijuana has been legal in New York for nearly two years. To meet the demand, storefronts are exploding throughout the city.
Authorities now estimate that some 1,400 shops are selling marijuana in the five boroughs, virtually all of them, illegally.
That practice, along with safety issues associated with tobacco and electronic cigarettes, prompted a joint oversight Wednesday by New York City Council's Committees on Oversight & Investigations, Consumer & Worker Protection and Health.
Manhattan City Council Member Gale Brewer complained bitterly on social media. On Wednesday, she chaired a hearing with her colleagues at City Hall.
"To say that smoke shops are rampant is an understatement," Brewer said.
The city has also learned that shutting down illegal storefronts isn't as easy as it would seem.
"They have to be found guilty. They can have upwards of 90 days to address the notices of violations that are issued to them," NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda said.
Miranda told the council that the process often takes months, despite what he described as increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts.
"Every person is entitled to that due process of being found guilty or not," Miranda said.
To make matters worse, more and more of the smoke shops are getting robbed.
A worker was shot late last Tuesday night at an unlicensed shop in Hell's Kitchen.
"We've made quite a few apprehensions by utilizing staffing and more cars and our aviation unit, resulting in significant arrests," said Chief John Chell of the NYPD Patrol Division.
Housing Works in Greenwich Village is the only location in the entire state where marijuana sales are legal.
Paula Collins is an attorney who works with unlicensed shopkeepers.
"Most of the smoke shop owners would love to get a license. I get phone calls every single day," Collins said.
She says the state is still drafting regulations.
"We went a good year, if not longer, 14-16 months, without any enforcement whatsoever," Collins said. "And so other shops followed suit and thought, 'Well, you know, if they have marijuana going out the door, why don't we?'"
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