Jackson Heights community rallies against illegal smoke shops near schools

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Council Member Shekar Krishnan called for greater enforcement against illegal cannabis shops like Haze Land, which is located in the heart of Jackson Heights.
Photo courtesy of Shekar Krishnan’s office

Several elected officials representing Jackson Heights rallied with dozens of parents, school children and teachers on May 1, calling for urgent enforcement against Haze Land, located at 37-07 82nd St., an illegal smoke shop that recently re-opened after being shut down by the Sheriff’s department.

Haze Land sits in the heart of the neighborhood, within close proximity to multiple schools, churches and the Queens Public Library Jackson Heights branch.

Photo courtesy of Shekar Krishnan’s office

Council Member Shekar Krishnan called on city and state agencies to immediately shutter the shop, as well as bring enforcement against a growing list of illegal cannabis stores that have opened across the neighborhood.

“Unlicensed stores are marketing uninspected, highly-potent, sweet-flavored cannabis products to children near schools and playgrounds,” Krishnan said. “The shops threaten our public safety and the health of our community, and we need swift, consistent enforcement to shut them down. Closing these illegal shops also clears the way for the regulated sale of safe cannabis products that New York State authorized several years ago.”

Photo courtesy of Shekar Krishnan’s office

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz thanked the NYC Sheriff’s Office for the Apr. 20 raid at Haze Land and several other illegal cannabis shops, but added that the sweeps resulted in only a temporary closure of the establishments.

“To see them reopen a mere day later due to gaps in the then-existing laws is a frustrating turn of events,” Cruz said. “Situated close to one of our community’s schools, Haze Land poses a direct threat to our youngest and most vulnerable neighbors.”

Stacey Gauthier, Principal of the Renaissance Charter School, around the corner from Haze Land, joined parents in decrying the store’s marketing of products to children, using cartoon characters and brightly colored packaging.

“My school has 686 students Pre-K to 12 and a District 75 inclusion program,” Gauthier told the crowd. “Illegal and unregulated weed shops have no place in our community. It should not take a child to get sick or die for action to be taken now to close them down and prevent new ones from opening.”

Krishnan’s government colleagues criticized the illegal stores for undermining the legal industry, which provides safe products and hires union labor.

“Creating and passing [the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act] was hard work,” said Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas. “We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to open a legal shop had the opportunity to do so.”

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas speaks at the rally. Photo courtesy of Jessica González-Rojas’ office

She added that illegal cannabis shops evade paying local taxes, evade the rigorous vetting process and evade the strict regulations the state has created to keep communities safe.

González-Rojas said that illegal cannabis shops like Haze Land and others in the district are breaking the law and taking advantage of law enforcement’s slow reaction, endangering residents and targeting youth through unsanctioned marketing practices.

“These shops are not following the regulations we set in place and are marketing to our children,” González-Rojas said. “This has to stop. We need to shut these shops down and ensure the safety of our community.”

On the same day Haze Land was closed down, Governor Kathy Hochul announced her enacted budget, including giving municipalities like New York City the power to shut down unlicensed cannabis shops.

“Now we have new laws that will allow the Sheriff’s Office and the Office of Cannabis Management to immediately padlock any shop caught selling cannabis illegally,” Cruz said. “Now, we need the Governor’s and Mayor’s Offices to work together to permanently and swiftly close these illegal shops. Let this be a clear message to those operating illegal cannabis businesses in our neighborhoods. Our community is united and we will close down every single illegal shop.”