NYC councilwoman shames landlord of illegal cannabis store for allegedly taking ‘illicit’ drug money

NYC councilwoman shames landlord of illegal cannabis store for allegedly taking ‘illicit’ drug money

This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s New York and written by Julianne Cuba.

New York City’s Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer is accusing the landlord of an illegal cannabis store in the neighborhood of taking dirty money instead of moving to evict his tenant following dozens of violations and attempts by the city to kick out the store.

On March 7, the former Manhattan borough president penned a missive to the landlord, Alan Sackman of the well-known development team Sackman Enterprises, expressing her disapproval for Sackman allegedly trying to cash in on the infamous store’s “illicit profits.” Sackman leases out the first and basement floors of 550 Columbus Ave., between West 87th and West 86th streets, to Convenience on Columbus Corp., also known as Zaza Waza Smoke Shop.

According to court documents, Sackman entered into a lease agreement with Convenience on Columbus Corp. in March 2022, renting out 420 square feet of space on the first floor and an additional 400 square feet in the basement for $9,520 per month for the first two years, rising to $9,800 per month this April.

But rather than complying with multiple levels of law enforcement, Brewer alleges, Sackman’s attorney — Allison Furman of her own eponymous Madison Avenue-based law firm — brought Sackman’s tenant to court Feb. 26, demanding at least $75,000 — plus attorneys’ fees — for breaching the lease by selling unregulated weed, cigarettes and banned e-cigarette products. Furman filed the lawsuit, which also seeks to force the tenant to acquire the proper license, on behalf of Sackman’s limited liability company, T&J 2006. The matter is next due in court April 4, according to court documents.

Although the Upper West Side is no stranger to illicit cannabis stores, or attempts to shut them down — Brewer estimates that there are about 70 in her district alone — she told Crain’s on Friday that this is the first time she has seen a landlord pull such a seemingly shady move.

Authorities have tried numerous times to shut down the smoke shop at 550 Columbus Ave., which sits just feet from Brewer’s local office, slapping it with dozens of violations for selling illegal products, all of the fines for which remain unpaid, according to Brewer’s office.

“You have been urged by me, the Manhattan District Attorney, and New York City Sheriff to commence an eviction proceeding against Convenience on Columbus Corporation,” she wrote.

And her March 7 letter follows one she sent last month warning Sackman of the consequences of leasing his space to an unlicensed cannabis retailer, even offering to help with eviction proceedings. Commercial landlords are prohibited from knowingly leasing retail space to tenants that sell unlicensed cannabis, cigarette and tobacco products.

“As the building owner, you are potentially liable for legal and financial penalties for this conduct, including increased fines following the cannabis policy reform legislation enacted in 2023, which included specific provisions to address the proliferation of illegal shops,” she wrote Feb. 15.

Brewer told Crain’s she’s frustrated by the rollout of licensed cannabis stores. She currently only has illegal weed stores in her district, she said. But the local community board recently approved an application for one to open up on Broadway, she said.

“We want to have the legal ones be successful,” Brewer said.

Brewer says she has not received a response to her letter and doesn’t expect one. Attempts by Crain’s to reach Sackman and his attorneys were unsuccessful.

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