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Raid of an Illegal Cannabis Business in Bay Ridge Rattles Owner, Sparks Controversy

Big Chief was operating without a license when it was raided, but owner complains: Licenses are impossible to come by in Brooklyn.
Colorful art on on the outside wall of b+Big Chief, an illicit cannabis dispensary in Bay Ridge that was raided by law enforcement Nov. 16 but remains open. Photo: Will Fritz for BK Reader.

A raid of an illicit cannabis business in Bay Ridge has left some community members debating the use of police resources to go after an industry that remains in a legal gray area in New York.

Law enforcement seized products and made arrests at one location in Bay Ridge and reportedly several others, though the sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for details in time for publication. The raid, according to Sheriff Anthony Miranda, was a joint operation between the New York City sheriff’s office, the New York Police Department, the City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and the state Office of Cannabis Management.

One business raided was Big Chief, an unlicensed dispensary at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 74th Street in Bay Ridge.

Tank Denory, the owner of Big Chief, said the raid happened with the help of who he says appeared to be two undercover officers on Nov. 16.

“The door is locked, so nobody under 21 is allowed to come in here,” he said.

“So two ladies came and they made believe they were shopping, and when the cops came in front of the door, they ran to the door and let them in without us letting them in.”

Denory said law enforcement seized tens of thousands of dollars worth of products from his business, which he said has been open since Aug. 20.

“They barged in here and they started tearing up the couches,” Denory said.

“They seized everything, even if it was batteries, even if it was like a phone — there was a phone, there was an iPad, they took all of that stuff.”

A video of the raid at Big Chief was shared online and resulted in debates between neighbors on social media about whether the raid should be characterized as a helpful cleanup of illicit activity or an overuse of resources better directed elsewhere.

Hannah Nelson, a 26-year-old Bay Ridge resident, said she was excited when Big Chief first opened and thinks the controversy about it is overblown.

“People were making all these wacky accusations online and saying, 'Oh no, there’s gang members now!' First of all, what do you define as gang activity? I don’t think any of that was happening,” Nelson said.

“I’m just frustrated by the attitude toward the use of weed even though it’s now legal. I don’t think there needed to be this grand raid. There’s other stuff going on that could be focused on.”

Cannabis has been legal to possess in New York since last year, but the Office of Cannabis Management just began issuing licenses for recreational dispensaries on Nov. 20. Even then, it only issued 37 licenses in a state of 18 million. And, due to a recent court injunction, none of them are in Brooklyn.

“It’s definitely frustrating for me as a recreational user,” Nelson said.

“I have anxiety [and] I take medication, I go to therapy but weed also helps me and I use it safely in my home. It would be nice to have a straightforward place to purchase it from. There’s a bodega in the area that I purchase from, and it’s not shady."

"But it would be nice if I didn’t have to feel like I was almost doing something wrong in those transactions, the same [way] people can go to the liquor store," Nelson said.

Bobby Ferazi, a 58-year-old Bay Ridge resident who runs a Coney Island-based nonprofit youth development organization called Thompson Drive, said he sees it differently.

“My thoughts really come from the youth standpoint,” he said.

“I don’t smoke [cannabis] personally, but I have good friends that smoke all the time, so I don’t care really. But what bothers me is it almost seems like it’s marketing it toward the kids.”

He said the staff at his nonprofit has seen teenagers able to illegally purchase cannabis items at bodegas — places like where Nelson said she has purchased cannabis for herself — and that worries him. 

And, even if Big Chief only let in adults over 21, Ferazi said the lack of a license bothers him.

“If you’re willing to skirt the issue ... my thought is, if these people are willing to do that, then what else are they willing to do?” Ferazi said.

“I’m just afraid of what’s going on in the backrooms. They’ll be selling marijuana, but what are they selling in the back?”

Denory, for his part, said he opened without a license simply because getting one is virtually impossible in most places and literarily impossible in Brooklyn at the moment.

“It’s just corrupt,” he said.

“How do you accept 5,000 applications and only 36 people could get it?”

He pointed out that the fee for a conditional adult-use retail license in New York State is $2,000 — money that won’t be returned for those unsuccessful in getting a license.

“They just robbed everybody, basically that's exactly what happened,” Denory said.

“So since we were waiting for the license, we decided to be open, and if there were any issues they should have notified us instead of just running up, barging their way in here, using two people to open the door for them.”