A city in Westchester has seen a dramatic rise in unlicensed smoke shops selling cannabis and other illegal products to children, officials said.
According to Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, unlicensed smoke shops that peddle cannabis and other products containing THC have popped up all over the city despite the police department's best efforts, he said in a press conference held on Thursday, March 9.
"It’s become like the wild west," Spano said, adding that similar products have also been sold in bodegas, gas stations, and even barber shops in the city, and often use colorful marketing and packaging containing cartoons to make the drugs more appealing to children.
Some of these illegal products include cannabis, THC-9, and THC-8, which is especially "rampant, unregulated and dangerous," because it may contain heavy metals, arsenic, or other byproducts, according to Yonkers Police Commissioner Christopher Sapienza.
City officials and police have made efforts to shut down the unlicensed shops, including completing 24 inspections, shutting down four shops, and confiscating thousands of dollars worth of unlicensed and unregulated products in the past six months. Despite this though, similar shops keep re-opening, according to Spano.
"It's not improving, and we need help," the mayor added. To help fight against the rise in unlicensed shops, the city has formed a Smoke Shop Task Force led by Yonkers PD, the city's fire department, the Consumer Protection Bureau, and the Department of Housing and Buildings.
However, according to Spano, more state regulations are needed to help combat unlicensed smoke shops. Because of the lack of state laws pertaining to the shops, the city has had to resort to fire or building code violations to take some of the businesses down, he added.
Spano also said that creating more regulations is especially important because unlicensed and unregulated products may eventually prove fatal if they contain certain substances such as fentanyl.
"We don’t know what’s in these substances but we have been lucky, it’s safe to say," he said, adding, "are we going to wait until something potentially fatal happens?”
For now, though, city officials are warning any shops currently selling illegal products that authorities are coming for them.
"If you’re going to open up a smoke shop for the purpose of selling marijuana, don’t do it in Yonkers," said Sapienza, who added, "we will come in, and if appropriate, we will arrest you, we will confiscate your illegal products, and we will shut you down using the task force.”
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