New York Takes a Bite Out of Illicit Cannabis Sales

American policeman and police car in the background
Photo: ALDECA studio / Shutterstock

NEW YORK – New York Police Department officers and state tax agents raided several illicit dispensaries in Manhattan this week, following through on Governor Kathy Hochul’s promise to levy hefty fines and shut down unlicensed operators.

The state’s latest crackdown focused on Empire Cannabis Club, a so-called concierge service with locations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. Billing themselves as private clubs that provide dues-paying members with access to cannabis products, Empire’s five stores are among the most visible and flagrant licensure violators in the Big Apple, according to regulators.


On Tuesday morning, the enforcement team raided a Chelsea location, where agents reportedly loaded seized products into a van. Later in the day, co-founder Lenore Elfand confronted officers outside a Lower East Side location and refused to allow them to enter without a search warrant. A video posted Wednesday to the Instagram account @empireclubnyc shows police placing her in handcuffs as she accuses them of “attempting to illegally enter a private club without warrant.”

empireclubnyc instagram account
Image: screen grab from @empireclubnyc on Instagram

Elfand and the store manager have been charged with obstruction and await a court date

“We’ve known this was coming for a long time, and we’ve been waiting for it,” Elfand told The New York Times.

Tax officials summoned NYPD officers to a third Empire storefront, but the officers left without taking any action.

According to Yahoo News, Elfand’s not-for-profit membership club is the self-proclaimed first cannabis dispensary in New York City. Her brother and father, who are partners in the club, served a combined 12 years in prison for illegally growing cannabis, which she sees as a social injustice that “doesn’t just affect the people that go to prison.” In 2022, Empire’s attorney, Steve Zissou, said the company’s business model was “based on the legislation.”

In May, Hochul signed legislation funding and empowering the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct investigations and take action against unlicensed dispensaries. The legislation allows regulators to levy fines up to $20,000 per day and issue civil penalties in cases where appropriate taxes have not been paid. The OCM may also seek court orders, closing orders, and the removal of commercial tenants engaging in cannabis retail without proper licensing.

The following month, the state inspected more than 30 unlicensed storefronts, leading to the seizure of 1,000 pounds of illicit cannabis products worth an estimated $11 million as part of its first enforcement actions under the new law.

“Under new powers that I fought for in this year’s state budget, we can now conduct enforcement against businesses illegally selling cannabis, and I’m proud to report that in just the first three weeks of our efforts, we’ve seized nearly $11 million worth of illicit products off the streets,” Hochul said in June. “These unlicensed businesses violate our laws, put public health at risk, and undermine the legal cannabis market, and with the powerful new tools in our toolbelt we’re sending a clear and strong message: If you sell illegal cannabis in New York, you will be caught and you will be stopped.”

The following shops were issued notices of violation:

  • Varieties on Broadway – 736 Broadway, New York
  • Roll 2 Nation – 738 Broadway, New York
  • Baby Jeeter – 793 Broadway, New York
  • Daydream – 1181 Broadway, New York
  • Maze – 16 St. Marks Place, New York
  • LaGuardia Smoke – 510 LaGuardia Place, New York
  • Nomad – 59 West 30th Street, New York
  • Play Lane – 117B W 23rd Street, New York
  • Cannabis Culture – 403 8th Avenue, New York
  • Smoke Factory – 287 7th Avenue, New York
  • Go Green Dispensary – 603 6th Avenue, New York
  • Giggles – 59 1st Avenue, New York
  • Empire Smoke Shop – 57 1st Avenue, New York
  • NYC Smokes – 104 MacDougal Street, New York
  • Caviar – 110 MacDougal Street, New York
  • Sweet and Sour – 73 2nd Avenue, New York
  • Smart Smokes – 143 1st Avenue, New York
  • Old G Convenience Corp – 18 West 14th Street, New York
  • Premier Top, Inc – 54 14th Street, New York
  • Sogie Mart – 24 Avenue A, New York
  • Recreational Plus Dispensary – 180 1st Avenue, New York
  • Runtz – 14 1st Avenue, New York
  • Black Leaf – 103 East State Street, Ithaca
  • Zaza Convenience – 101 East State Street, Ithaca
  • The Rezz – 312 Fourth Street, Ithaca
  • Puff N Pass Smoke Shop – 222 Elmira Road #10, Ithaca
  • Green Magic – 114 Henry Street, Binghamton
  • Take Off – 2-63 Chenango Street, Binghamton
  • BMillz 122 Washington Avenue, Endicott
  • Royal Vapes, 113 Washington Avenue, Endicott
  • BMillz 1110 Conklin Road, Conklin


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