Illegal pot shops shut down in Queens after authorities’ raid

Mayor Eric Adams’ task force on cannabis enforcement raided and temporarily closed two stores in Queens on Tuesday for illegally selling pot products, officials said. The task force, which includes members of the NYPD, the NYC Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Consumer Affairs, seized pounds of flowered marijuana and cannabis edibles from Gas City Metropolitan in the upscale Middle Village section of the borough.

Photos taken of the raid at 73-12 Metropolitan Avenue show the unlicensed weed seller operating openly with flowered marijuana logos plastered across the walls. A sign on top of a door read “Gas City Member’s Lounge.” In the basement, customers smoked pot and consumed other drugs, said Queens Councilman Robert Holden, who represents the area and joined the inspectors.

“I’m shocked that these illegal stores are operating in my beautiful, middle-class neighborhood. I’m outraged. This is a disgrace,” Holden said. “We knew it was going on. But we didn’t know it was this bad. I lived here for 72 years and have never seen anything like this.”

Holden said he observed boxes of rolled joints and hallucinogens removed during the raid. Unstamped cigarettes were also discovered.

Cannabis edibles resembling candy products seized from deli

Cannabis was also seized at the Metro King Deli Corp at 73-02 Metropolitan Avenue, which included THC-infused edibles that looked like candy. The task force confiscated edible cannabis products that resembled common consumer candy and snack products with names such as “Nerdz,” “SnoCapz,” “Wonka Bars,” and “Trolli”.

The councilman blamed Albany for dropping the ball for the huge illegal market. “I’m angry at our state legislators for legalizing marijuana without having an infrastructure and safeguards in place to address the black market. We’re losing tax revenue,” Holden said.

He was equally enraged when he saw cannabis edibles that look like regular candy being taken from Metro-King deli frequented by kids, saying the sale of such unlicensed and untested products endangers public health.

Five operators charged after raids on mobile cannabis dispensaries

In a separate operation, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced the takedown of three illegal cannabis dispensaries and the arrest of five individuals from across the borough and Long Island for their roles in allegedly operating the illegal marijuana shops. The operation seized two mobile cannabis dispensaries operated out of two trucks in Astoria and an illegal smoke shop in Ozone Park located directly across the street from a middle school.

Katz said that the vehicles were impounded and the products were seized during the multi-agency law enforcement operations. “Unlicensed sellers are undercutting legal vendors as they are just getting started, denying badly needed tax revenues for essential public services,” Katz said. “The illegal outlets also are the focus of numerous community complaints, including for selling hallucinogens and edible marijuana products that have sickened young people and are marketed to children.”

Lara Paola, 32, of Jackson Heights, Tanik Kerr, 42, of Hempstead, and Edgar Niyazov, 30, of Rego Park were each charged with criminal possession of cannabis in the third-degree, unlawful sale of cannabis and unlicensed general vending. The defendants each face up to 364 days in jail if convicted.

According to the charges, Paola operated an unlicensed mobile cannabis dispensary called “All The Smoke,” on the corner of 30th Avenue and 33rd Street in Astoria. Kerr and Niyazov operated an unlicensed mobile cannabis dispensary called “Canna Depot,” on the corner of Broadway and 34th Street in Astoria.

During the investigation, undercover detectives from District Attorney Katz’s office made numerous controlled purchases of cannabis from each of the trucks on multiple occasions. On May 3, detectives from the district attorney’s office, along with NYPD officers, executed search warrants at each of the mobile dispensaries. More than five pounds of cannabis flower, including hundreds of pre-rolled joints, blunts, resin, and oil were seized along with hundreds of packages of edible cannabis.

Governor proposes new measures to combat illegal cannabis market

The raids come as Governor Kathy Hochul proposes new measures to combat the illegal cannabis market in New York. Hochul wants to give city officials more power to padlock illegal cannabis shops and impose fines of up to $10,000 per day for violations. She also wants to expedite the licensing process for legal cannabis businesses and appoint members to the Cannabis Control Board, which will regulate the industry.

Hochul said that the legalization of cannabis in New York was meant to create a safe and regulated market that benefits communities and small businesses. “However, we are seeing a proliferation of unlicensed cannabis sellers who are undermining the legal market, endangering public health, and exploiting workers,” she said.

Hochul said that her proposals would protect consumers, workers, and communities from the harms of the illegal cannabis market and ensure that the legal industry is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

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