Illegal weed woes

With help from Shawn Ness

New from New York

Happening now:

  • Can New York shut down illegal weed shops?
  • Republicans, again, press for bail reform.
  • The next State Police superintendent cruised through committee.
  • Local leaders are objecting to potential water cuts.


New York is three years into weed being legal, but there are not many legal dispensaries across the state. The lack of access to legal weed has led to a boom in illegal pot shops, and state Sen. Jamaal Bailey (center) is pushing for a bill to toughen enforcement.

SMOKING OUT A SOLUTION: Pretty much every New York lawmaker is on the same page — illegal weed shops have got to go.

But smoking out a solution could make winners and losers in Albany. Currently, three proposals are on the table to shut down the illegal pot shops:

  1. The governor, in her budget proposal, wants to empower the Office of Cannabis Management to padlock illicit shops, with local governments backing the agency up.
  2. State Sen. Jamaal Bailey and Assemblymember John Zaccaro, both Democrats, are pushing for a bill that would revoke licenses to sell tobacco products, alcohol and lottery tickets from stores that violate cannabis law.
  3. Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar and state Sen. Leroy Comrie, both Democrats, want to allow local governments to directly and independently shut down illicit shops.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, who championed the legislation in 2021 to legalize cannabis statewide, is fed up: “At some point, someone has to step up and say no more of this.”
But Rajkumar’s idea seems yet to win her colleagues’ support: “It’s not something that’s crossed my desk at all,” Peoples-Stokes said.

Perhaps nowhere has the call on state lawmakers to fix the illegal pot shops been louder than in New York City.

City Council Member Gale Brewer’s persistence in shutting down illegal weed stores has become the stuff of urban legend. And Mayor Eric Adam’s identified shutting the shops as one of his top five state budget asks.

But while the mayor has invited Rajkumar to stand by his side at everything from a Staten Island sanitation announcement to a Dominican heritage celebration, he seems reluctant to return the favor in this case.

Adams hasn’t appeared at any of the Queens lawmaker’s at-least-three press events promoting her illegal cannabis solution, despite the shuttering of the shops being a top concern for the mayor.

His office also didn’t single out Rajkumar’s bill as the best solution, saying they’re reviewing each of the proposed solutions. Part of the hangup with Rajkumar’s may be issues related to due process.

“I do have concerns that the second proposal could have due process implications and that we may run into a war on drugs 2.0,” Fatima Afia, a cannabis lawyer at Rudick Law Group, said in an email. “New York is the home to Rockefeller drug laws and stop and frisk — we don’t have the best track record for giving law enforcement full carte blanche on these sorts of matters.”

Rajkumar defended her proposal to Playbook, saying that “many lawyers” support her plan and that she has Adams’ support: “He’s 100 percent behind smokeout,” Rajkumar insisted. “I speak to him about it frequently. He’s publicly endorsed the bill.”

Meanwhile, Bailey and Zaccaro say their solution — to strip illegal shops of cigarette, beer and lotto licenses — is a unique fix to the issue and should ideally be part of the upcoming budget. Zaccaro is calling on Adams to back his proposal.

“I think it would behoove the mayor to get behind something like this,” he said.— Jason Beeferman

Two Senate committees approved Gov. Kathy Hochul's pick of Steven James as the next superintendent of State Police. He is expected to be confirmed by the Senate later this week.

HOCHUL’S POLICE PICK ADVANCES: A pair of state Senate committees approved Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pick of Steven James as superintendent of the State Police today. James was supported by each of the 18 senators in the room.

“I’m extraordinarily impressed,” Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said. “You have an amazing resume,” added Republican state Sen. George Borrello from Western New York.

James, who spent 32 years on the force before retiring as deputy superintendent in 2020, is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.

He answered questions this morning on subjects such as how to deal with staffing shortages (he proposed “heavier recruitment in the military” and starting to recruit “even further down” by launching an “explorer program” in schools) and how to use artificial intelligence to police mass gatherings and develop smarter protective vests (“Either we use it, or the enemy will use it against us,” he said). — Bill Mahoney

NO BUDGET SOUP FOR YOU: Top legislative Democrats met behind closed doors for more than two hours with Hochul today at her second floor offices at the Capitol. But no white smoke signifying a budget deal was seen.

The biggest piece of news to emerge from the meeting came from Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who confirmed what most in Albany had assumed: An extension of mayoral control of New York City schools won’t be in the budget.

But as a huffing and puffing pack of Capitol reporters tried to catch their breath after stopping Stewart-Cousins outside her office following the meeting with Hochul, she also insisted a housing plan still was under discussion as part of the budget talks.

So far, it’s not being kicked to later in the year when lawmakers might have more leverage to shape the policy — and a (more bare bones) budget stands a better chance of getting agreed to.

“We’re continually trying to get everyone to one accord,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Heastie, meanwhile, pivoted from his recent space analogy on budget talks to trains to suggest momentum continued.

“The train is still moving down the tracks,” he said. — Nick Reisman

PUBLIC SAFETY: In the wake of NYPD officer Jonathan Diller’s death, Senate and Assembly Republicans are once again bashing the 2019 bail reform changes.

The man accused of killing Diller had 21 prior arrests, which Republicans blasted as an inexcusable failure of the justice system.

“That evil man killed officer Diller had 21 prior arrests. But it’s not just about the arrests. He had two prior felony convictions,” Michael Reilly, a Staten Island assemblymember and former cop, said at a GOP news conference at the Capitol. “What you see here is just another way of how our colleagues in the majority are really empowering criminals. They’re giving them a get out of jail free card.”

Assemblymember John McGowan, a former prosecutor, drew parallels to another news conference Republicans held after dismembered body parts were found on Long Island where they discussed the same bail reform laws and how they did not allow for judges to set bail on some crimes.

“Because the New York State Legislature has legislated away that opportunity for judges, that offense is not bail eligible. And I’ve heard from my colleagues kind of one central theme: How many more? When is enough enough in New York state?” McGowan, a Rockland County Republican, said.

Hochul talked last weekend about the officer’s death and said she has toughened the bail laws repeatedly since they were passed before she took office in 2021. — Shawn Ness

Mayor Eric Adams announced crime is down throughout the city and its subways for the first three months of the year.

CRIME IS DOWN: Crime is down in New York City and its subways for the first three months of the year compared to last year, Mayor Eric Adams announced today.

Crime in the subways was down 15 percent in February and 24 percent in March, after it was up in January. So Adams took the opportunity to push back on the perception that the subways are unsafe, due to a few high-profile incidents, including shootings and murders.

“Can we please stop saying we’re up in crime for the subway system?” Adams said. “We’re not.”

Adams himself had talked a lot about crime and disorder in the trains — but insisted he was turning it around: “It became a pandemic of disorder, that we are now correcting the sins of the past.”

The announcement came after the New York Post reported that, after crime stats were adjusted, there were actually more of the seven major crimes in 2023 than 2022, despite Adams’ insistence that “crime is down.”

Adams didn’t respond to a question about his words not holding true, but NYPD Chief of Crime Patrol Michael LiPetri insisted “it is absolutely not decietful” to say crime was down, and “let’s not forget the fourth-safest year in the crime stat era was last year.” — Jeff Coltin

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal today joined home care consumers and workers outraged over Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposed pay cuts.

HOME CARE: Home care workers and consumers are pressing Hochul on her plans to slash the pay for home caregivers under the Consumer Protected Personal Disability Program. The program allows people with disabilities on Medicaid to receive care in their own homes from a caregiver of their choice.

Home caregivers currently make $20 an hour downstate, and make even less upstate. Hochul’s cuts would pay them just over $17.50 an hour, the advocates said at a rally today at the Capitol.

“There’s greed here. There’s always greed when the people who deserve the pay don’t get it, that’s greed. And we don’t stand on the side of greed. We sit on the side of workers and patients,” Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

Advocates believe the better way to address the issue is trying to crack down on wasteful spending by companies that provide care, as well as lower insurer’s profits and put them in the hands of the home care workers. — Shawn Ness

NO TO WATER CUTS: Local elected officials in a few communities across New York are objecting to Hochul’s proposed reduction to the annual water infrastructure funding from $500 million to $250 million.

“Our need to upgrade water infrastructure is growing, not shrinking,” wrote some New York City Council members, Kingston’s mayor and officials from Bethlehem, Rochester, Cortland County and Tompkins County.

“The Biden administration is currently finalizing new regulations to lower drinking water standards on toxic PFAS chemicals and require the replacement of 100% of our lead pipes. We cannot meet these critical clean water goals without state aid.”

The officials wrote in a letter organized by Local Progress New York that they have shovel ready projects in their communities that could be left unfunded if the state reduces the amount available.

Top Democratic lawmakers have also identified preserving water funding as a top priority. Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, the deputy majority leader, said it’s a major priority of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus, which she chairs.

“We want to send a message that we need to allocate as many resources as possible to tackle our clean water crisis and get these firmer chemicals out of our water,” she said. “There’s some federal money coming, but at the end of the day, we should also as a state make an investment and show New Yorkers that this is a very important issue.” — Marie J. French

— RFK Jr. getting on the ballot in New York has its challenges. (State of Politics)

— An ex-NYPD deputy inspector was sentenced in the case around Adams’ campaign’s straw donor scheme. (Daily News)

— Long Island is ranked near last in housing growth rate in the nation. (Newsday)

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Illegal weed woes

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