By Ed Hersh
A task force of investigators swooped onto the Upper West Side on Thursday to conduct surprise inspections of several of the proliferating smoke shops in the 20th and 24th precincts. Led by the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the task force included members of the NYPD and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management. City Council Member Gale Brewer “rode along.”
Over $200,000 worth of “unregulated THC vapes, edibles, untaxed cigarettes, and (illegal) flavored vapes” were seized and more than $16,000 in fines were issued to the offending stores, according to a posting on the Sheriff’s office Facebook page. Large bags of confiscated merchandise could be seen being taken from the stores.
The enforcement action has its roots in last month’s survey by Brewer’s office, which found at least 61 smoke shops had opened in her district and at least 26 were selling cannabis and/or illegal tobacco products. NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda — whose office has taken the lead on smoke-shop enforcement — requested the list and promised to invite Brewer to observe the inspections when they occurred. Also present were several members of her staff and of the City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigation, which Brewer chairs.
The sweeps use civil not criminal laws to seize merchandise that is deemed to be in violation of state tax regulations on cigarette and marijuana sales, along with city laws about selling flavored vapes. Although marijuana is now legal to possess, there is currently only ONE legal dispensary operating in the city, opened just before the new year by Housing Works downtown; any other store selling cannabis products is doing so illegally.
Brewer’s spokesperson told us that of five shops visited, the bulk of merchandise was seized at the Zaza Waza Smoke Shop on Columbus Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets (which is diagonally across the street from Brewer’s office), and a store called Vape Dispensary on Broadway at 90th Street.
NY1 was given advance word of the sweep and their report is here.