AM Rajkumar proposes new bill to shutter illegal smoke shops across the city and state

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar speaks during a rally in opposition of a proposed asylum seeker tent shelter at Aqueduct Racetrack on Monday, July 17, 2023.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

A new bill sponsored by Queens Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar aims to shut down smoke shops that are illegally selling cannabis in New York City.

Rajkumar’s bill, called the SMOKEOUT Act (A8428), was introduced in Albany last week, and would grant local municipalities the power to close smoke shops caught illegally selling cannabis. Currently, the industry is primarily policed on a state level and enforcement has been limited.

The bill aims to address the public’s concern about the proliferation of illegal smoke shops, which have emerged since cannabis use was legalized in 2021.

“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,” Rajkumar said.

Rajkumar, a longtime proponent of Mayor Eric Adams, says the bill would provide the Adams administration with the ability to promptly shut down illegal smoke shops in the city. Adams, who supports the bill, said the city would take swift action following Albany’s approval.

Currently, the State Cannabis Control Board, the approval and oversight body of the Office of Cannabis Management, operates as the only state entity responsible for shutting down the thousands of illegal smoke shops in operation.

Rajkumar unveiled her new legislation during a Mayoral town hall in December. Adams, who was in attendance, acknowledged that there was a lack of enforcement, noting that OCM doesn’t have the personnel to get on top of the problem.

Currently, many shops are being issued with fines, but are rarely shut down.

“Right now, the State has the enforcement power and the State does not have the manpower to do the enforcement. And so many of these places are opening and they’re laughing at the fines,” said Adams during the town hall last year. “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.”

In Queens, the operators of illegal smoke shops have shown little regard for residents, according to their many critics. Some shops have proved to be magnets for criminal activity, drawing the attention of robbers and thieves.

Bronx man charged in fatal shooting
Detectives at the scene of a fatal shooting at The Plug Smoke Shop at 109-27 Jamaica Ave.

For instance, Richmond Hill residents witnessed a shooting in 2023 related to smoke shop— one of many across the city. In that case, a 20-year-old was shot and killed inside The Plug Smoke Shop, on Jamaica Avenue.

Councilwoman Lynn Schulman sponsored the legislation that will curb illegal smoke shops and cannabis dispensaries. Photo courtesy of City Council

Other Queens lawmakers have also introduced legislation aimed at clamping down on illegal smoke shops. Council Members Lynn Schulman and Joann Ariola co- sponsored a bill last year, which passed, that slaps landlords with hefty fines if they knowingly rent storefronts to smoke shops selling cannabis without a license.

For the SMOKEOUT bill, Rajkumar says she remains committed to partnering with city leaders to obtain approval.