Yet another one of New York City’s estimated 1,400 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries, smoke shops and weed bodegas has become the target of violent criminals. This time, an Upper East Side smoke shop still celebrating its grand opening fell victim to a crew that stormed the Carnegie Hill store and robbed it at gunpoint — making off with thousands in merchandise.
Detectives gathered around a monitor inside the Valley Vibez Smoke Shop, located at 119 East 96th Street, between Lexington and Park Avenues, on Friday night — rewatching surveillance video of the robbery that unfolded inside store less than an hour earlier.
Police say five suspects, all men, walked into Valley Vibez around 8:15 pm and made a beeline for the counter in the rear of the smoke shop. One of them pulled a gun on the clerk working inside the store, according to investigators, and the team of armed robbers made off with $7,000 in products.
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“These things are sitting ducks,” said one neighbor who recently shopped at Valley Vibez describing the brand new smoke shop, which still had a ‘grand opening’ sign in the window, confirming to Upper East Site it is one of the more than one thousand stores selling marijuana and cannabis products without a license.
“The first time I went into this place I said ‘holy shit, how do they keep so much stuff here?’” the neighbor explained.
Inside Valley Vibez, a display case built into the checkout counter was ransacked, with only a handful of products littering the bottom of the glass enclosure.
Between the cash-intensive nature of the businesses and black market value and volume of the cannabis products kept in stock, unlicensed smoke shops, dispensaries and weed bodegas have become magnets for robberies, according to the NYPD.
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Last October, detectives announced they were searching for a pair of suspects wanted in a string of 21 smoke shop stickups, including two located right here on the Upper East Side — one of which was robbed at gunpoint just two days after its grand opening.
New steps are now being taken to crack down on the proliferation of the unlicensed dispensaries and smoke shops opening across the five boroughs, expanding beyond an initial task force lead by the Sheriff conducting inspections.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced last week it is now taking aim at landlords who lease space to the shops operating without the proper permit — warning they could be forced to evict nuisance shops.
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