WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) — Republican lawmakers gathered in Watkins Glen on Thursday alongside regional law enforcement to call upon Governor Kathy Hochul to implement legislation and crack down on “sticker stores” for illegally dispensing and selling marijuana in the Southern Tier and New York State.

In a joint statement, Senator Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, and Assemblyman Chris Friend said that New York needs to stop the proliferation of illegal marijuana ‘sticker stores’ saying they diminish the quality of life and risk the safety of the communities they operate in.

“New York State is establishing a legal and appropriately regulated network of adult-use recreational marijuana dispensaries, with all the necessary safeguards,” they said. “While we opposed the legalization of marijuana from the outset, if it’s going to go forward, it needs to take place under a legally established system with the appropriate oversight,” they said.

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend currently sponsor legislation that, if enacted, would strengthen existing laws, outlaw sticker stores, and establish criminal and civil penalties for violators. They say that any civil penalties collected by the state would be remitted to the county of the violating establishment.

Officials say that these stores get away with selling illegal cannabis through a loophole in the state’s cannabis law which was enacted in 2021.

Todd Casella, the Yates County District Attorney, says that the stores are getting away with it because, “the law’s language does not expressly prohibit the ‘gifting’ of cannabis products to individuals.”

In 2022, the newly established state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) deemed the practice of gifting, “illegal under the Marijana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).”

Casella says that OCM identified more than two dozen alleged violators statewide and sent cease and desist letters to the owners of illegal operations.

Despite the OCM’s enforcement actions and warnings, numerous stores locally and throughout New York continue to violate the law with minimal consequences. Officials say that the warnings have been ignored and illegal stores have proliferated locally in Watkins Glen, Corning, Elmira, and Owego, where local police agencies have raided several stores and attempted to shut them down.

Law enforcement officials shared similar thoughts on the matter, with Schuyler County Sheriff Kevin Rumsey saying that selling marijuana should be no different than selling alcohol in that proper permits should be obtained before selling.

“Perhaps, if the people who are responsible for enforcing and prosecuting New York State laws were consulted beforehand, some of these concerns could have been avoided,” Rumsey said.

Chemung County Sheriff William Schrom is for the legislation, saying that it would close loopholes in the existing laws that are long overdue.

“These stores have been allowed to operate with no oversight and are benefitting financially as a result,” Schrom said.

Steuben County Sheriff James Allard calls the unregulated transfer of edibles, marijuana, and concentrates through gifting both reckless and unconscionable.

“None of the currently trafficked edibles concentrates or marijuana are tested, certified or verified as safe,” Allard said.

Local officials and law enforcement are concerned that the number of illegal businesses will continue to rise across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes if nothing is done by the governor and legislature.