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NYC Sheriff discusses efforts to clamp down on illegal smoke shops at Astoria meeting

Sheriff Anthony Miranda addresses the Astoria Homeowners, Tenants & Business Civic Association meeting. Photo by Queens Post

May 30, 2024 By Queens Post News Team

New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda addressed a crowd of over 100 people at a meeting of the Astoria Homeowners, Tenants, & Business Civic Association on Wednesday night, highlighting efforts to clamp down on illegal smoke shops in the city.

The New York City Sheriff’s Joint Compliance Task Force—made up of members from the Sheriff’s Office, NYPD, and the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection—has been conducting raids throughout May as part of an operation called “Padlock to Protect,” a new initiative by Mayor Eric Adams to permanently shutter all illegal cannabis stores in the city.

Speaking at Wednesday night’s civic association meeting at Pistilli Grand Manor at 45-02 Ditmars Blvd., Miranda said the Task Force has issued over $17 million in civil penalties across the city since the initiative began earlier in May, adding that more than $7 million in illegal products has been seized.

In Queens, the Task Force has attempted 133 inspections and issued 56 cease-and-desist orders to illegal smoke shops. Miranda said the Sheriff’s Office has issued more than $3.8 million in civil penalties in Queens and seized close to $2 million in illegal products throughout the borough.

Furthermore, the Task Force has issued 54 sealing orders in Queens, while it has arrested seven people and issued 13 court summonses during the raids.

The NYC Sheriff’s Office raided an illegal smoke shop in Astoria last year, seizing hundreds of boxes of untaxed cigarettes and illegal marijuana products. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

Miranda told Astoria that the Task Force has the authority to raid smoke shops based on “civil enforcement criteria,” meaning that it can only issue civil penalties to proprietors of illegal smoke shops.

However, he said some smoke shop operators have been arrested after being found in possession of illegal firearms or illegal narcotics such as cocaine or fentanyl.

Miranda told residents that it was imperative that cannabis is sold through legal dispensaries, stating that illegal smoke shops often sell cannabis to minors and sometimes sell tainted products, resulting in illness.

“If you see a legal cannabis shop, they’re not selling to our kids. They’re not packaging cannabis the way these illegal smoke shops are. They’re not mixing their product. They sell a regulated product,” Miranda said on Wednesday night. “We know that it’s safe and we know it’s not going to minors. It’s a controlled environment and that’s what we wanted when we passed the law (to legalize cannabis).

“That’s what the law provided for. It also meant that these businesses would provide a certain tax revenue that would support other services in our city. These smoke shops are not paying taxes. Not only do they risk the health of our children and endanger the people who want to participate in cannabis, they’re also stealing from our communities every single day.”

Miranda additionally said the Task Force will be working with landlords who have unwittingly leased their properties to illegal smoke shops and now have no means of “getting them out.”

He said the Task Force would target landlords who have actively participated in setting up illegal smoke shops rather than those who have entered a lease with a tenant under false pretenses.

“We want to make sure that we’re holding landlords who are participating in the process accountable and fining them accordingly,” Miranda told residents.

“There are opportunities for business owners to apply to break the sealing order as long they abide by rules and regulations that they cannot re-rent the property to another cannabis business. They have to rent it to a legally-operated business. We then go in to inspect it and make sure and then hand the location back to the owner. But it must be legal entities and businesses.”

“If we go back a second time and find illegal activity, we will hold the landlords accountable.”

Deputy Inspector Seth Lynch addresses the Astoria Homeowners, Tenants & Business Civic Association meeting. Photo by Queens Post

Miranda, along with Deputy Inspector Seth Lynch from the 114th Precinct, urged local residents to refrain from shopping at illegal smoke shops, even if it is to buy non-cannabis products such as bread or soda.

Lynch, who was appointed Deputy Inspector at the 114th Precinct covering Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Long Island City, also told residents that crime was down slightly in the area over the past 28 days, stating that felony assault and burglaries have marginally decreased recently.

However, Lynch said robberies and grand larceny increased slightly over the past 28 days.

“In the southern and eastern end of the Precinct, we are seeing individuals who are going city-wide on mopeds. They are easily able to travel from the Bronx and Manhattan and elude us and they’re committing gun-point robbery in addition to strong-arm robbery,” Lynch told residents on Wednesday.
He said three individuals were committing the robberies, adding that two have been apprehended by the NYPD while one remains at large.

Lynch also encouraged residents to be vigilant about scams, particularly due to the rise of artificial intelligence.

“They could even imitate my voice and give whatever story they want about why you should donate money to the Police Department, which, of course, we never do.

“Unfortunately, we see individuals being caught by these scams – either on the internet or over the phone – and giving up large sums of money.”

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