State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar Hosts “SMOKEOUT Act” Rally at City Hall Calling for Bill’s Passage in State Budget

Assemblywoman brings together citywide coalition demanding closure of all 36,000 illegal smoke shops this year

South Queens, NY – On Friday, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar brought together a citywide coalition calling for passage of her SMOKEOUT Act (A8428A/S7998A), which she authored, and which grants municipalities across the State, including New York City, the authority to immediately shutter all illegal, unlicensed smoke shops once and for all. The rally called upon Albany to include the full SMOKEOUT Act in the State’s enacted budget.

On the steps of City Hall, Assemblywoman Rajkumar rallied a diverse coalition calling for passage of the SMOKEOUT Act. Government, business, and nonprofit leaders from all Five Boroughs joined together. Many were immigrants hailing from around the world, ranging from the Dominican Republic to Bangladesh. Some were small business owners themselves. All were united in enthusiastic support of enacting Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s bill and shutting down all illegal smoke shops.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar rallied the crowd: “We are here to say what’s on every New Yorker's mind. We are here to say what every New Yorker wants, which is shut down these illegal cannabis shops. We need to shut them down once and for all!”

She added, “This issue unites us across all boroughs and across all backgrounds. How can there be 1000 times more illegal smoke shops than legal ones? As New Yorkers, we all feel like we are high right now, because the situation makes no sense. But we can fix it, and we can fix it this year by passing my SMOKEOUT Act.”

She led the vociferous crowd in chants of “Shut them down!” and “Smoke ‘em out!”

Rajkumar also said she is working closely with Albany leadership including the Governor to include the SMOKEOUT language in the State Budget due April 1st. Mayor Eric Adams has said when the SMOKEOUT Act passes, he will be able to close all illegal smoke shops in New York City within 30 days.

Rajkumar explained, “My legislation gives New York City and municipalities across the State the authority to close illegal smoke shops, so that local law enforcement is finally empowered to stop the sale of unlicensed cannabis that is endangering our children and our neighborhoods. The people of New York City came together at my rally, and now it is time for us to come together in Albany so we can eliminate these epicenters of crime.”

Assemblywoman Rajkumar has gained overwhelming support for her SMOKEOUT Act. She now boasts the endorsements of the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Mayor Adams, New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda, and the Times Square Alliance.

State Senator Leroy Comrie, the bill’s Senate sponsor, spoke of his gratitude to carry the SMOKEOUT Act in his chamber, noting that illegal smoke shops are now the number one issue his constituents raise.

Senator Comrie said, “We need to make sure that there’s the manpower to close these illegal shops down. We need to make sure that fines are imposed in a positive way. And we need to do this now because it’s killing our cities’ neighborhoods, it’s killing our local businesses, it’s impacting everything from churches to daycare centers. We need to shut this down. So when Assemblymember Rajkumar came to me with the idea for the [SMOKEOUT Act] I was only too happy to do it because every meeting I attend, everywhere I go, people want to see these shops shut down now.”

Assemblywoman Rajkumar received support from the City Council as well. A representative of Councilwoman Lynn Schulman announced that the Councilwoman had introduced Resolution 0027-2024 calling on Albany to pass the SMOKEOUT Act.

Operators of legal cannabis dispensaries discussed their industry’s support for the SMOKEOUT Act. David Nicponski of Freshly Baked NYC discussed all the work he willingly does to comply with stringent cannabis regulations and be a responsible business owner. He emphasized how the tax revenue from his business goes toward investment in communities. Nevertheless, the smoke shops flouting the law with impunity are undercutting his business.

“We need the support from our leaders who have made promises to support us. We follow the rules, we are doing so, it’s time for our leaders to step up and support us,” Nicponski said.

Edgardo R. Marrero from the New York State Department of Health discussed the public health risk the illegal smoke shops pose, including the possibility that illegal cannabis could contain deadly amounts of fentanyl. He agreed that legalizing cannabis was important because enforcement had targeted communities like his, but said that the proliferation of illegal shops was making these communities worse.

“We’re doing this to save lives…The SMOKEOUT Act must pass to better the lives of our communities, of all New Yorkers, most especially those most affected by these illegal shops which are in the brown and black communities,” Marrero said.

Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City pledged the private sector’s support for the SMOKEOUT Act.

“On behalf of the business community, we thank Senator Comrie and Assemblywoman Rajkumar for introducing this bill. Legalization of cannabis was supposed to make our City safer and healthier, and exactly the opposite has happened because of the proliferation of illegal cannabis shops. So it is time to take action long overdue and we thank you again for making this happen,” Wylde said.

David Schwartz, representing the New York Association of Wholesalers and Distributors, voiced the group’s enthusiastic support for the SMOKEOUT Act. He noted that, in addition to selling illegal cannabis, the shops are also selling untaxed cigarettes, and shutting them down will add about $2.4 billion in tax revenue.

Schwartz said, “Either we’re a nation of laws or not a nation of laws, and I have to thank Assemblywoman Rajkumar, Senator Comrie for finally taking action…$2 billion a year are being taken away from you, they are being taken away from police, and fire, and everything else the City and State has to pay for every single year. So finally we are going to be a nation of laws and it’s because of [Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s] hard work and [Senator Comrie’s] hard work that we’re going to get this in the budget, get it signed and get this passed, and get rid of these stores.”

Francisco Marte, President of the Bodega and Small Business Association and a leader in the Dominican community, emphasized that passing the SMOKEOUT Act is essential to the vitality of New York’s small businesses and the safety of communities.

“I want to thank Jenifer and Leroy because this is an amazing act,” said Marte.

Rev. Dr. Terry Troia of Project Hospitality in Staten Island discussed how the illegal smoke shops threatened her work to help children suffering from mental health issues and substance abuse. She decried the illegal cannabis shops’ marketing of drugs to children, presenting a montage of colorful smoke shop facades featuring cartoon characters and other enticing iconography.

“This advertising itself is killing our children,” Rev. Troia said.

Mazeda Uddin, founder and CEO of the South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training discussed the overwhelming support for the SMOKEOUT Act in the South Asian immigrant community. She personally amassed over 500 signatures in support of the act.

“We need to support the SMOKEOUT Act in the State budget,” Uddin said.

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 were 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.

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.

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 75 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.