New York Governor Urges Online Platforms to Cease Promoting Unlicensed Marijuana Stores

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has taken a firm stance, urging major online platforms like Google and Yelp to cease promoting listings for unlicensed cannabis retailers. Hochul, accompanied by licensed dispensary owners, highlighted the pressing issue at a recent press conference, shedding light on the intense competition faced by legitimate businesses due to the proliferation of unlicensed weed shops across New York City.

During the conference, Hochul pointed out the ease with which users can find listings for unlicensed cannabis dispensaries on platforms like Google Maps and Yelp, stressing the need for immediate action.

Despite the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2021 and the subsequent opening of the state’s first licensed adult-use cannabis retailer in late 2022, the process of establishing licensed pot retailers has been sluggish. Challenges such as the intricate application and approval process, as well as difficulties in securing suitable storefronts, have contributed to the delay. As a result, fewer than 70 licensed weed shops have opened statewide thus far.

Furthermore, legal proceedings contesting the state’s licensing process for pot retailers, particularly reserved for individuals with prior marijuana-related convictions, have further impeded the opening of new licensed shops. Although recent settlements have led to the establishment of 50 additional licensed weed retailers since December, including at least 30 new shops this week, the efforts to shutter unlicensed weed shops have proven largely unsuccessful.

The exponential rise in unlicensed retailers, especially in New York City, poses significant public health risks and undermines the state’s efforts to provide opportunities in the regulated cannabis industry for those affected by years of marijuana prohibition. Despite limited attempts to close down these illicit shops through raids and fines, the governor acknowledged the persistent challenges.

Hochul has proposed legislation to streamline the process for the state Office of Cannabis Management to obtain orders to close unlicensed cannabis businesses, with enforceability by local agencies equipped with more resources for execution.

In light of the ongoing proliferation of unlicensed pot retailers, Hochul has called upon social media and tech companies to refrain from promoting illegal sites and ensure the visibility of legal shops. However, the abundance of unlicensed cannabis shops on online platforms complicates reaching new customers for licensed operators, who face stringent restrictions on business promotion.

In response to Hochul’s plea, major tech companies have expressed varying stances. Yelp defended users’ First Amendment rights to access information about all businesses, licensed or unlicensed, while Meta reiterated its prohibition of content promoting the buying and selling of drugs, including marijuana, on its platforms.

Google, meanwhile, affirmed its commitment to banning cannabis ads in New York and pledged to remove listings for unlicensed shops once they have been closed by regulators. The company assured that it would indicate closures, including those due to license issues, on its listings and promptly remove cannabis ads upon detection.

Governor Hochul’s call for action underscores the urgency of addressing the proliferation of unlicensed marijuana shops and the need for cooperation from online platforms to uphold regulatory standards in the cannabis industry.


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