Home News Andrew Cuomo: Pot shops, like potholes that don’t get fixed

Andrew Cuomo: Pot shops, like potholes that don’t get fixed

“They can’t even figure out how to fix a pothole!” That was my grandfather’s rant when as a kid I would be riding in his car and he hit a pothole. It was a metaphor for a general frustration with government’s incompetence: the inability to perform simple, obvious tasks.

Today there are many metaphoric potholes causing public frustration and indignation. Mentally ill roaming the streets and subways, random acts of violence, pervasive shoplifting, dirty streets, not to mention the migrant debacle. Today, my grandfather would not be alone in expressing his frustration .

The Citizens Budget Commission recently released a study showing that New Yorkers believe the conditions in the city have gotten much worse in the last seven years, with a paltry 30% saying quality of life is good or excellent, while a meager 24% rate the quality of government services good or excellent. This is not just a political commentary but a foreboding signal for the future of New York.

The world has changed post-COVID. As remote work has increased personal mobility, the tolerance for high taxes, crime and poor quality of life has dropped, leading to an accelerating exodus of New Yorkers for more affordable communities and warmer climates. We know that our state has lost more residents since the COVID pandemic than any other state in the nation. While neighboring states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have begun to reverse that trend, New York’s forecast has only gotten worse.

We must be realistic about the challenges we face . We are at a precarious, pivotal moment — a moment when competence of government has never been more important.

New Yorkers are a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them. If my grandfather were alive today I think the “pothole” that would cause him the most disgust is the number of illegal pot shops — an estimated 2,000 and counting — all throughout the state. These cannabis shops are the symbolic and tangible manifestation of governmental incompetence.

The smell of marijuana fills the New York City air as if everyone was wearing the same cologne or perfume… eau de ganga…and too much of it at that! Children who are exposed to so many threats in our society are now confronted by the easy access to rampant drugs sold illegally, compounded by the life threatening possibility of fentanyl laced marijuana.

This is not rocket science. It’s Government 101.

We passed the state’s new marijuana law three years ago which would issue licenses to highly regulated distributors paying high fees. However, the state has been glacial in issuing the new licenses and effectively granted immunity to the proliferation of illegal operators.

Rather than actually confront these illegal pot shops, politicians from the top down have pointed fingers, held press conferences, given speeches and accomplished absolutely nothing. This is a simple enforcement issue like sales of alcohol or tobacco.

Under penal code sections 222.50-65, it is still a criminal offense to possess marijuana with an intent to illegally distribute. Under Cannabis Law section 132, it is illegal to operate a dispensary without a state authorized license. Government could crack down on illegal operators today.

The attorney general, who has eagerly and extraordinarily aggressively used the consumer fraud law for her high profile political cases, could use Executive Law 63(12) against illegal weed establishments. But rather than using the existing tools, politicians claim they need specific legislative authorization from the state.

Even if that were the case, the Legislature can pass a simple bill authorizing municipalities to close down illegal cannabis shops tomorrow. Increase the penalties if necessary or helpful. It should be done in a day.

If the state government exhibits continued paralysis, the mayor or the City Council should exercise their own jurisdiction and legislative powers in combating public nuisances and padlock these establishments and let them challenge the action in the courts. In other words, do something!

All that is needed is the political will and a modicum of competence. These illegal shops are not “local entrepreneurs” creating “jobs and economic opportunity” in poor communities anymore than the local drug dealer on the corner provided economic empowerment. If laws are not enforced then a lawless society is the obvious result.

I am not suggesting a demonstration of extraordinary government leadership or vision, or that government should fix everything, but show people a flicker of hope that things in New York can get better and that there is a reason to believe in our future. Start with something simple. Get a shovel and fill the pothole. Close the illegal pot shops, now.

Cuomo was the 56th governor of the State of New York.


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