Bagged and tagged: Ride along with New York City Sheriff’s Office as they raid illegal smoke shops

The New York City Sheriff’s Office made arrests during a takedown of unlicensed smoke shops.
Photo by Dean Moses

The New York City Sheriff’s Office is at the forefront of the battle against illegal smoke shops in the Big Apple, and amNewYork Metro recently rode along with law enforcement officials as they conducted a takedown operation in Brooklyn and Queens — resulting in several arrests and seizures.

According to New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda, his office’s primary focus is to put a dent in the businesses of those who set up shop and sell illegal cannabis products, mushrooms, cigarettes, and vapes in the vicinity of schools and houses of worship.

This isn’t about merely rooting out nonviolent crimes, but also curbing more violent offenses connected to smoke shops in recent months. One such incident occurred on April 9 at such a business in Harlem, where a customer, Brandon Brunson, was shot in the back of the head as he turned to leave the location at 304 Lenox Ave. Last month, another individual was shot dead during a smoke shop robbery gone wrong in Richmond Hill, Queens.

Anthony Miranda, New York City Sheriff. Photo by Dean Moses
The New York City Sheriff’s Office confiscates drawers upon drawers of cannabis. Photo by Dean Moses

The sheriff also explained that they follow-up on complaints made via 311 or directly to his office, yet he also stressed that they do not take these allegations lightly. Each grievance is fully investigated before an action is taken. 

“Those are priority locations complaints by public schools, houses of worship, complaints where maybe there may have been potential sicknesses identified by certain locations. So, if there have been kids in high school or adults who reported that they bought some product from this location that might have gotten them sick, then we’ll also go look at those locations as well,” Sheriff Miranda told amNewYork Metro.

Since the Sheriff’s Joint Compliance Task Force began in November of last year, the agency has completed a total of 224 inspections, resulting in 45 arrests, 148 C-Summons issued, and an estimated total of Civil Violations in $5,343,026. The task force continued these enforcements last week in Green Point, Long Island City, and Sunnyside.

The New York City Sheriff’s office inspect the basement of a store and find more goods. Photo by Dean Moses
Stacks of untaxed cigarettes. Photo by Dean Moses

The procedure began with a pre-action briefing inside of the sheriff’s headquarters located at 30-10 Starr Ave. in Long Island City.

Here, the Sheriff’s Office briefed members of their own team along with New York City Police Department, Department of Consumer Worker Protection, and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management on what to expect along the way. Sheriff Miranda told amNewYork Metro that the ability to work as a team with other agencies and sharing information is instrumental.

“We’re now exchanging information. So, we can get the nuisance abatements and start focusing on getting those locations close sooner. But it’s a process. It’s a legal process that has to be done,” Miranda said.

While the Sheriff’s Office has always performed seizures and enforcements regarding illegal cigarettes that have been criminally imported to New York City, now they also issue summons and confiscate products from those selling marijuana without a license.

Another major aspect of enforcement is the distribution of cannabis products disguised as candy. These confectionery products are marked with licensed names and look nearly indistinguishable from the manufacturer’s items.

Infused candy that looks remarkably like the real thing. Photo by Dean Moses
A store worker is handcuffed. Photo by Dean Moses

On April 5, the sheriff’s office led an inspection to three locations, with each one being in the vicinity of a school or church and leading to an arrest.

Sal Wholesale Corp, located at 344 Graham Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, stood 0.3 miles from P.S. 132 Conselyea School.

JS Smoke Shop Incorporated located at 216 Driggs Ave. in Greenpoint also sold products 0.3 miles from St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy.

Finally, VIP Convenience 42RD Inc operated merely 0.2 miles from Queen of Angels Church in Sunnyside, Queens.

During these takedowns members of the sheriff’s office discovered drawers upon drawers of illegal marijuana, stacked shelves of illegal cigarettes, containers of mushrooms and vapes, and even drug products disguised as Skittles.

In fact, so many illegal products were found the entire store floor was covered in plastic used to bag and tag the contents.

While some criticism has been levied at law enforcement for barely being able to crop what has become a weed of smoke shops infiltrating the Big Apple since many feel the cost of summonses is outweighed by the money earned from the products.

Sheriff Miranda pointed out that these establishments take a major financial hit when his office confiscate thousands of dollars’ worth of their products.

Bags of cannabis and mushrooms.Photo by Dean Moses
confiscated items fill the store floor. Photo by Dean Moses

“It’s always a meaningful impact to be out there. We educate people. I think people want to see the enforcement on the street level, but they should understand that it’s not limited to just what we do on the street. There are long term investigations that go on, search warrants that are executed,” Sheriff Miranda explained.

At these three locations alone, the Sheriff’s Joint Compliance Task Force conducted 3 arrests and issued 29 Notice of Violations (NOV’s) with 167 violations, costing an estimated $130,501 in penalties.

The following contraband items were seized: untaxed cigarettes, packages of other tobacco products, flavored vape products, THC vapes, packages of THC flower and pre-rolls weighing a total of 9.49 lbs., and THC edible products weighing 13.47 lbs.

A store worker is handcuffed.Photo by Dean Moses
Joints are weighed.Photo by Dean Moses
The Sheriff’s office conducts the investigation.Photo by Dean Moses