Crackdown (finally) on illegal smoke shops?

So the city is now cracking down on illegal smoke shops, the mayor announced yesterday, and while I will believe it when I see it, it seems this is a step in the right direction.

For reasons I do not understand, the city had to establish formal rules to allow law enforcement — in this case the Sherriff’s Office — to inspect, issue summonses to and then padlock unlicensed smoke shops and cannabis shops, which means every place you can think of in the neighborhood with a neon pot leaf in the window. (We don’t have any legal ones yet.)

The state had to give the city some sort of regulatory authority to padlock smoke and cannabis shops without a license — why, I don’t quite understand, but it clearly involves the fact that cannabis is newly legal — and the City Charter had to be adjusted as well. Here’s the new language in the Emergency Procedures of Section 1043(i)(1) of the New York City Charter:

This regulatory framework enables the City Sheriff to conduct administrative inspections of places of business where cannabis, cannabis products, or any product marketed or labeled as such, are sold, or offered to be sold, where no registration, license, or permit has been issued pursuant to the New York State Cannabis Law. Administrative Code section 7-551 authorizes the City Sheriff to issue civil summonses for engaging in such conduct, among other violations. Section 7-552(b)(1) authorizes the City Sheriff to issue an order to anyone engaged in conduct prohibited by section 7-551 to cease such prohibited conduct. An order to cease may only be issued to the business engaged in the prohibited conduct or the owner of such business. Administrative Code section 7-552(b)(2) authorizes the City Sheriff to execute and order the sealing of certain places of business where such conduct continues after an inspection has revealed violations, or where such conduct poses an imminent threat to public health, safety, and welfare. This rule implements various elements of this statutory framework by adding a new section 42-04 to Title 19 of the Rules of the City of New York, entitled Sheriff’s Enforcement of Unlicensed Cannabis Activity.

The state certainly has a stake here: these shops are cutting into the profits of the legal shops that are (slowly) rolling out across New York State. And the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which regulates tobacco and e-cigarette sales, recognized that the illegal shops were especially dangerous for kids, since they operate by no rules and sell extremely high doses for cheap.

The city says they have closed down 128 illegal retailers but the only one around here that was shut down was Jungle Boys right across from City Hall. And more seem to open every week.

The Sheriff’s Office Joint Compliance Task Force to Address Illegal Smoke Shops was trying to pursue landlords, and sent warning letters to 603 building owners that they could be legally liable, but that clearly got nowhere. The task force also imposed $108 million in penalties and conducted more than 2,100 compliance inspections, but from our observation here, that did not result in big changes.

The city estimates there are 2800 of these shops in the city.

To understand the landscape a bit, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is the city’s enforcement agency when it comes to tobacco and electronic cigarette licenses. Retailers need a Tobacco Retail Dealer license to sell cigarettes or tobacco products, and a separate Electronic Cigarette Retail Dealer license to sell e-cigarettes. This, of course, has nothing to do with cannabis. Since 2018, the number of licenses for both tobacco and e-cigarettes are capped by community district. The department conducts routine inspections of its licensees and conducts inspections of retailers it suspects are selling tobacco and e-cigarette products without a license.



  1. Why I’m glad to see the city is finally addressing this, it’s just a game of wack-a-mole. They’ll close one, another will pop up.

  2. It will only work if serious significant fines are also imposed. Else they will just re-open somewhere else.

  3. These places are what make Tribeca great. When I’m strolling down Church in my drip, I always make it a point to stop in to grab a beverage — my day is a bit brighter after a good chat with the staff, a delicious orange Gatorade in my belly, and a killer contact high. How dare the city attack small business and take jobs away from the little people. Adams is pandering to the agenda of bored private equity yoga wives who have never worked a day. Support free enterprise! Don’t let this happen Adams. Sign my petition.

  4. So glad this is finally hapening. Do we still have a place to complain. Would love to see the illegal smoke shops on Chambers between Greenwich and West Broadway close. The one that is next to the kiddie ice cream shop, candy store and a little over 100 meters from PS 234 and WMP. Additionally the 4 illegal smoke shops on Church street between Reade and Chambers.

  5. Outside of Tribeca, but saw a bunch of police officers on Thompson today cracking down on these illegal shops.