State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar Introduces “SMOKEOUT Act” to Shutter Illegal Smoke Shops Across New York State

Assemblywoman’s bill will close 36,000 illegal smoke shops statewide, including 1,500 illegal shops fueling crime in New York City

South Queens, NY – Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-AD 38) introduced the SMOKEOUT Act (A8428), one of her major priorities for passage this Albany session. The SMOKEOUT Act (Stop Marijuana Overproliferation and Keep Empty Operators of Unlicensed Transactions) grants municipalities across the State, including New York City, the power to immediately shutter all illegal, unlicensed smoke shops once and for all.

Illegal smoke shops are able to operate with almost total impunity because local municipalities lack authority to enforce cannabis shop violations. The 2021 bill passed in Albany legalizing recreational cannabis established a Cannabis Control Board as the only agency in the entire State authorized to close unlicensed cannabis retailers and order the seizure of merchandise. Currently, New York City can only raid a smoke shop if there is suspicion of certain other violations, such as untaxed cigarettes. Even then, the City cannot close the shops.

Upon passage of Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s SMOKEOUT Act, New York City and all municipalities across the State will have the authority to close illegal smoke shops and seize all merchandise. This will allow New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and law enforcement statewide, to get into action swiftly shutting down smoke shops and permanently eliminating their blight. Mayor Adams says when granted the enforcement power from Albany, he could clear up the smoke shops problem in 30 days.

The Assemblywoman revealed plans for her smoke shop legislation at a December Mayoral town hall in Corona, earning praise from Mayor Adams and loud cheers from the packed room of Queens community leaders.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar said at the town hall, “I am proud to announce today that in our State Capitol this session, I am introducing a bill to expand the City's power to shut down the illegal, unlicensed smoke shops that are plaguing our communities. These unlicensed illegal smoke shops are endangering the children of our community and they are hotbeds of crime.”

Mayor Adams said at the town hall, “The Cannabis Law that was passed was supposed to allow only those legal shops to open. The problem with the law, it did not give local municipalities the power and authority to go in and enforce the illegal shops. We are asking the representatives in Albany, that was the bill that Assemblywoman Rajkumar was talking about.We are saying, ‘Give us the enforcement power.’ Right now, the State has the enforcement power and the State does not have the manpower to do the enforcement power. And so many of these places are opening and they're laughing at the fines. It's the price of doing business. They're making so much money that they're just opening and continuing to sell to our children. And so we're hoping this year in Albany that we are now going to get the enforcement power.”

New York City is now home to an estimated 1,500 shops illegally selling cannabis without a license; there are an estimated 36,000 statewide. Smoke shops have become a magnet for crime in New York City: filled with valuable contraband and loose cash, they are a tantalizing target for armed robberies. Such robberies skyrocketed from 137 in 2021 to 593 in 2022, or almost 1 robbery for every 2 smoke shops. In 2023 alone, there have been at least five fatal shootings in smoke shops, including one in Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s district.

Often these unlicensed smoke shops also sell other contraband including untaxed cigarettes and psychedelics. Some offer edibles appealing to children, packaged to resemble sugar cereals and other popular children’s snacks. Shops are opening across the street from schools.

Besides breeding crime and endangering neighborhoods, illegal smoke shops unfairly compete with the legal cannabis dispensaries authorized by the Cannabis Law of 2021. These legal operators underwent a lengthy licensure process and sell rigorously tested and regulated cannabis. Legal shops cannot meet the prices of illegal shops’ unregulated cannabis, and there are only 40 legal dispensaries across the State. This undermines the legalized cannabis program’s intent to provide economic empowerment to people who were impacted in the past by Draconian drug laws, and to reinvest in communities that were historically targeted for enforcement.

Cannabis products from illegal shops even present a danger to the users. A random sampling of illegal smoke shop cannabis products found that 40% contained dangerous contaminants such as E. coli, salmonella, lead, and pesticides. None met the safety standards of New York’s legal cannabis.

The current rate of smoke shop closures, however, is unacceptably slow, moving at snail’s pace since municipalities lack the authority to shutter them on their own. The staggering number of shops, combined with limited resources by the Cannabis Control Board, has resulted in it issuing only 305 orders for illegal smoke shops to close during 2023. This amounts to less than 1% of illegal shops. Even then, the Board often takes no action to enforce the order to close, and illegal shops continue to operate anyway.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar is working with a broad and diverse coalition of community leaders across the City to drive her SMOKEOUT bill through Albany. She has already been in discussions with the Office of the New York City Sheriff, which conducts smoke shop raids.

After introducing the bill, Assemblywoman Rajkumar said, "It is time to immediately close all 36,000 illegal smoke shops across our state, including the 1,500 illegal smoke shops fueling crime in New York City. My legislation puts the power back in the hands of the people and municipalities, so that we can stop the sale of unlicensed cannabis that is endangering our children and our neighborhoods. We will come together as one State this Albany session and eliminate these epicenters of crime.”