Lawmakers are pushing the creation of a citywide campaign to warn young people of the risks involved in buying cannabis from unlicensed sellers.

It’s the latest move New York City is taking to curb the continued proliferation of illegal smoke shops since the state legalized recreational weed two years ago. It also comes amid ongoing chaos in the state’s recreational marijuana market.

“To protect our youth – and to stop the proliferation of unlicensed cannabis retailers – the city must commit to a robust marketing campaign educating the public about the health risks of purchasing cannabis from unlicensed retailers,” said City Councilmember Julie Menin, the bill’s primary sponsor, at a hearing on Wednesday.

Covert smoke shops began selling cannabis products around the city shortly after the legalization of the state’s recreational cannabis market. And these unlicensed – and therefore untaxed and unregulated – smoke shops outnumber licensed smoke shops by about 250-to-1, according to city estimates from this summer.

As a result, city and state officials are ramping up efforts to crack down on the illegal business by fining unlicensed smoke shops and even targeting landlords refuse to evict them.

Under Intro 995, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would work with the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protections to create a so-called “awareness campaign” on the “dangers of purchasing cannabis or cannabis products from unlicensed cannabis retailers.” The campaign would target minors and young adults, according to the legislation.

During the hearing, Menin cited a study that found traces of E. coli and heavy metals in weed purchased from illegal smoke shops. However, the November study from the New York Medical Cannabis Association tested products from just 20 of the estimated thousands of illegal smoke shops in the city. The study didn’t use any products from cannabis delivery services, either.

But with 35 total sponsors, the bill is all but guaranteed to pass in the 51-member Council.

Officials from city agencies present at the hearing said they still had more questions before they could support the measure, but Mayor Eric Adams has spoken out against unlicensed cannabis shops in the past.

“To those who believe this is going to become the Wild, Wild West of cannabis sales, we are saying clearly and loudly, ‘No, it is not,'” Adams said last year after introducing a joint task force to weed out illegal dispensaries.

The Council is considering another bill – Intro 1010 – that would require the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to create a specific 311 category for New Yorkers who want to call in about any illegal smoke shops in their neighborhoods. The bill from City Councilmember Gale Brewer has 22 sponsors.

The state’s cannabis market also faces other challenges: A state judge issued a preliminary injunction last month preventing hundreds of newly licensed dispensaries from setting up shop. Under the ruling, only 30 out of 400 weed shops can still expect to open soon.

 Councilmembers say unregulated pot contains dangerous substances.  Read More