Two Nassau vape shop owners and three employees were arrested in undercover raids Tuesday and face charges for allegedly selling marijuana, edibles and other weed-laced products that police said were marketed to children.
Recreational marijuana is legal in New York State for people 21 and older, but all three Nassau towns have opted out of the sale of pot and it remains illegal for area businesses to sell products infused with THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets a person high.
New York State’s first legal recreational marijuana dispensaries are expected to open later this year.
Two of the shop owners busted Tuesday kept their illegal products tucked away on shelves behind the sales counter, but 7 Leaf Clover in Westbury advertised the sale of THC on a large sign facing Old Country Road.
Glass cabinets inside the shop were visibly marked with a marijuana leaf and contained $50 jars of cannabis and rows of vape cartridges with names such as Pineapple Eclipse and Gravity Melon.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the shops sold THC-infused products that were packaged and marketed to children, including gummy worms, juice boxes and cereal.
“The problem is, when you ingest this stuff it takes about half-hour to take effect,” Ryder said at a news conference at Eastwind in Syosset, a targeted location that promotes itself as an “exotic vape shop.”
“It’s sugar. It’s like candy,” Ryder said. “You’re going to pop a couple. And then all of a sudden you’re going to end up overdosing.”
Thus far in 2022, he said, eight Nassau County middle school or high schoolers as young as 13 have suffered nonfatal overdoses after ingesting or smoking marijuana products, matching the total from all of last year. Fatal marijuana overdoses are rare but young children who ingest pot are more likely to require hospitalization compared to older children and adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Newsday and other media outlets were invited by Nassau police to join detectives Tuesday after they conducted undercover buys at the three shops, which also included Vaporville in Hicksville. The stores also sold legal CBD or hemp products that contain only slight amounts of THC along with legal drug paraphernalia.
Detectives confiscated nearly a dozen large brown bags filled with a range of weed-infused products with colorful names such as Planet Peachberry gummies, Cosmic Crisps cereal and Space Gods candy.
Officials identified the five defendants as Jennifer Barbaian, owner of 7 Leaf Clover,; Matthew Flax, owner of Vaporville, and his mother, Toby Flax; and Shaafal Nasser Ali Ahmed and Saleh Mohammed Salem, who worked at Eastwind.
They face charges of fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, both felonies. The five will be arraigned Wednesday in First District Court in Hempstead.
Jennifer Cute, a bartender at Charles Avenue Cafe, located next door to Vaporville, said she’s concerned that shops may be selling marijuana to children.
“For adults, they’re old enough to make their own choices,” Cute said. “But children don’t know better. So it’s actually very sad. And it’s shocking.”
Ryder said his department has received numerous complaints from parents and schools and will have “zero tolerance” regarding the sale of marijuana in the county.
“A warning to all these stores that are our there; these vape shops that are popping up, trying to sneak in under the radar,” he said. “It’s not legal in the three townships of Nassau County. So if you’re going to sell it, we’re going to lock you up.”
Robert Brodsky is a breaking news reporter who has worked at Newsday since 2011. He is a Queens College and American University alum.