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Manhattan Cannabis Chain Raided by Police and State Agents

Empire Cannabis Club is the target of stepped-up state efforts to crack down on unlicensed shops.

New York Police Department officers, together with state tax agents, conducted a raid on a dispensary in Manhattan, while their attempt to raid another location was thwarted. This operation showcased their newly expanded powers aimed at cracking down on unlicensed cannabis shops.

Late on Tuesday morning, the enforcement teams descended upon the Chelsea and Lower East Side branches of the Empire Cannabis Club, which happens to be one of the largest operators of unlicensed dispensaries in the city. Their purpose was to carry out what was described as a routine inspection by an official at the Chelsea site. Following a tense standoff lasting several hours, tax agents were observed removing confiscated products from the dispensary located on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, diligently loading them into a conspicuous red van.

Jonathan Elfand, one of the four owners of Empire's five outlets, recounted his experience of the police forcefully entering the Chelsea store and briefly detaining him after his arrival in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, at the Lower East Side store on Allen Street, Lenore Elfand, co-owner and sister of Jonathan, reported that the authorities refrained from raiding her establishment after she recorded a video explicitly stating her refusal to consent to a warrantless search. Nevertheless, she disclosed that tax agents issued tickets to her and the store manager, summoning them to court on charges of obstruction.

The Police Department stated that tax officials had called upon officers to visit the Allen Street dispensary, but ultimately no enforcement action was taken.

The Empire Cannabis Club in Chelsea became the target of the state's intensified efforts to clamp down on the surge of unlicensed dispensaries that have flourished since the legalization of cannabis in 2021. This raid sets the stage for a highly anticipated court battle to determine the legal standing of businesses like Empire under the cannabis law.

We have long anticipated this development and have been prepared for it, remarked Ms. Elfand.

The state's sluggishness in issuing regulations and licenses for legal dispensaries has resulted in only 19 such establishments operating statewide.

Empire, whose customers pay a membership fee to access its cannabis offerings, dismissed warnings from regulators regarding the legality of its business model, asserting that it operates as a concierge service rather than a conventional seller.

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