Diocesan News

Queens Catholic Academy Parents Strongly Opposed Cannabis Shop Opening Near School

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams brandish some hardware to pledge their unified front to “padlock” stores that sell illicit cannabis products. The appearance was made April 19 in Manhattan to unveil legislation to enhance enforcement of the state’s legal cannabis regulatory abilities. Included is the deputizing of local law enforcement officers to help state officials clamp down on the illegal “pop-up” weed retailers. (Photo: Office of the Governor of the state of New York)

BAYSIDE — Realizing the need for a tougher crackdown on shops dealing illegal marijuana, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams last month unveiled a unified front to thwart the proliferation of unlicensed cannabis retailers across the city and state. 

But weeks earlier, parents of students at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in northeast Queens made it clear that even a legally licensed cannabis dispensary in their neighborhood was cause for alarm. 

That’s why, on Feb. 5, they were in the crowd at a packed Community Board 11 meeting to protest a license request for a marijuana dispensary proposed by Canna Buddha Corporation. 

The New Mexico-based company wanted to put the new dispensary at 215-46 39 Ave. — 520 feet from the academy located at 216-01 38th Ave. State law says licensed dispensaries can’t operate within 500 feet of a school. But the protestors found no comfort in the extra 20 feet.

Sacred Heart Academy principal Alexandra Conlan said parents were worried criminals might case the dispensary and try to rob customers leaving with their purchases. The parents don’t want their children to see such crimes while coming from and going to school, Conlan said. 

Ultimately, Community Board 11’s committee on Public Safety and Licensing voted on Feb. 7 to deny the request because the property was not zoned for a dispensary. 

The proposed dispensary thus became a “non-issue,” a relieved Conlan said.

The Tablet reported last December how an estimated 1,500-2,000 unlicensed weed shops opened in New York City since sales and possession of “adult-use” cannabis became legal in 2021 with passage of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.

Also called “MRTA,” the measure is intended to provide means for licensed vendors to legally serve consumers while also generating tax revenue. 

At the end of April, the state had licensed 115 adult-use dispensaries statewide. There also were 40 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. But Hochul has called New York’s rollout of legalized adult-use cannabis a “disaster” — one that she could not defend. 

She said the legislation did not extend authority to local law enforcement officers to help the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) curb unlicensed “pop-up” retail operations.

Stores selling unlicensed cannabis typically don’t pay taxes on the products, while also shunning other rules, like selling cannabis to kids. And without regulatory oversight, these products could be cut with dangerous adulterants like fentanyl. 

Meanwhile, these retailers keep operating. They consider paying fines, temporary shutdowns, and confiscations of their products as the costs of doing business, Hochul said. 

They quickly recover and go right back to operating this very profitable business model, she said.

“In so doing, they make a mockery of our laws and believe that nothing will ever stop them and, until today, they’ve mostly been right,” Hochul said during an appearance April 19 in Manhattan. “The insanity stops right now.”

The governor was joined by Adams in promoting legislation that would allow the state to shutter alleged unlicensed shops while they appeal their citations. Currently, they can stay open to sell other goods during that process, which can take up to a year, Hochul said.

If enforcers verify that a store is selling untested products not labeled according to state law, they can be shut down immediately, Hochul said. 

But,” she added, “while the due process plays out, the padlock stays on.” 

The legislation will also give local governments authority to create their own laws to shut down illicit shops. For example, the New York City Sheriff’s Office will be empowered to deputize city police officers to help ramp up enforcement efforts. 

“Now they have the power to enforce,” she said. “See what we’re doing here? We’re bringing a lot of people out to say the jig is up.” 

Versions of the legislation were moving through the Assembly and State Senate at the end of April, but Hochul said she expected to sign a completed bill very soon. 

Back in Bayside, while the license request there became a non-issue, it also showed how a Catholic school community could mobilize parents, administration, board members, and the parish staff to address safety issues to students. If the license had been approved, the community was ready to enlist even more help by notifying the diocese, Conlan said. 

Meanwhile, the school’s community subsequently kept track of the license request as it moved through the Community Board’s meeting processes. Some monitored the meetings via Zoom, while some parents joined parents of public-school students at the meeting. 

People held up signs with slogans like, “No Need for Weed” “Doobie (as in Do Be) a Neighbor,” and “Vote No to Canna Buddha,” according to local media reports. 

The whole process began for Sacred Heart Catholic Academy when one parent sounded the alarm, the principal said. 

“I would just say watch the community newsletters,” she noted. “But have your parents be your grassroots advocates. They’re the ones with their ears to the ground.”