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Marijuana law expert on the state's push to crackdown on illegal pot shops: 'We are in a very tumultuous state right now with cannabis'

WBEN Radio Buffalo logo WBEN Radio Buffalo 2023-03-23
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) Marijuana law attorney Aleece Burgio reacting to the fines and tax penalties proposed by Governor Kathy Hochul for illegal pot shops operating across the state. "There has to be a penalty mechanism to get these stores to stop selling. Otherwise, they won't stop."

The bill that Hochul put forth Wednesday proposed fines of 10-thousand dollars a day, up to 200 thousand dollars for unlicensed stores. "That's the only way to combat this, to shut these guys out" said Burgio, who serves as General Counsel for MJI Solutions.

There has been a surge in unlicensed weed shops since recreational marijuana became legal in 2021. Only five legal dispensaries have opened across the state. Three of them are in New York City. The other two are in Ithaca and Binghamton.

The slow rollout and lack of enforcement by the state has led to a proliferation of illegal pot sellers.

"It's a bold endeavor for people who are running storefronts," added Burgio. People can walk in at any time of day and buy cannabis. They don't really know what they're buying. They're not carding. You're not supposed to be

buying cannabis if you're under 21. And there is no tax on it at the state level."

Burgio said another huge issue is the product itself. "We're talking about people with cats and dogs packing this stuff up in their basement. It's lawless and it's on shelves in CBD stores. Public perception is that these places are legal. I can't tell you how many times I'm told that there are tons of cannabis dispensaries. There are zero. Zero dispensaries in Western New York."

Western New York is one of 5 regions in the state without any legal dispensaries. A lawsuit is blocking the program from rolling out in much of the state.

"At the moment, the office of Cannabis Management, is trying to get the injunction removed. We have to wait and see if the judge will allow the removal it."

There is another court case over the rollout by a coalition comprised of medical organizations and a few different potential dispensaries in New York City.

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