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Authorities raid illegal smoke shops in College Point and Whitestone, seize cannabis and tobacco products

Feb. 22, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

Several illegal smoke shops in College Point and Whitestone were busted Tuesday by the NYC Sheriff’s Department.

Officers seized a “tremendous amount” of flavored nicotine vapes, which are illegal in the state, as well as cannabis products such as edibles and joints that cannot be sold without a state license. The officers were able to fill dozens of large garbage bags with the confiscated products during the afternoon raids. 

One of the locations targeted was Whitestone Essentials on 150th Street. The officers from the sheriff’s department, with assistance from the 109th Precinct, simultaneously raided Stoney Smoke Shop just 500 feet down the street in Whitestone.

Two smoke shops on 150th Street in Whitestone were temporally shuttered.Photo courtesy of @CMvpaladino on X

Two smoke shop owners were arrested and issued criminal court summonses. The officers also issued $192,100 in penalty fines, according to the 109th Precinct

“The idea here is to make their lives as miserable as I possibly can,” said Council Member Vickie Paladino, who accompanied the officers during the raids in Whitestone. “And that’s what I will continue to do along with the sheriff.”

Thousands of illegal smoke shops, such as those busted Tuesday, have proliferated across the city since the state legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2021, while being slow to issue retail dispensary licenses. The illegal stores appear to be convenience stores that sell regular beverages and snacks but instead peddle illicit products—often to minors—that are not tested or regulated.

The flavored vapes, which were in great supply at the stores busted, are especially popular among young adults and adolescents. 

“The amount of flavored vape products and THC edibles seized during these inspections were troubling for the council member and the public to realize,” wrote the NYC Sheriff’s on X

Prior to the raid, Paladino sat down with Sheriff Anthony Miranda to discuss how legislative action on her part can assist with targeting the illegal smoke shops. Other elected officials in Queens have introduced legislation to bring an end to the illegal shops. 

Council Member Vickie Paladino accompanied the officers during the afternoon raid.Photo courtesy of @CMvpaladino on X

In April, Council Member Lynn Schulman who represents Forest Hills introduced a bill that targets the landlords who knowingly lease a space to a tenant with intent to sell tobacco or cannabis products without a license. It was passed by the city council in July and is now law. 

More recently, Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar introduced the SMOKEOUT Act in Albany which would grant local municipalities the power to shut down the shops. Currently that responsibility is under the state’s jurisdiction. 

In the past, NYPD officials have said that they do not have the adequate manpower to go after all the illegal smoke shops across the city. But city officers do assist the sheriff’s department during raids that have taken place over the past year. Despite their efforts, it hasn’t made a dent on the number of shops, which also tend to reopen following the raid. 

“They [officers] have other locations which they will hit,” added Paladino.

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