A Sheriffs’ Union Is Hesitant to Shut Down Illegal Smoke Shops

There are an estimated 1,400 illegal smoke shops in NYC–and three legal ones–and the chief law enforcement agency to tackle the illegal problem is the City’s Sherriff Office. But now the deputy sheriff's union says their members should not be enforcing the laws against the illegal operations unless the city can produce a specific statute that they are charged with enforcing.

| 21 Mar 2023 | 03:25

A top sheriff’s union said the agency should not be charged with tackling the illegal smoke shops in New York City.

There are an estimated 1,400 illegal cannabis shops in the city today and local political leaders are increasingly worried that they have become magnets for crime including robberies of weed and cash and shootings, with sometimes fatal results.

NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda told a city council hearing in Feb. that his office can only conduct two or three seizures of illegal cannabis a day because everything seized in a shut down has to be meticulously docked as evidence. At the time of the hearing, he conceded the sheriffs were only doing the seizures and raids on a once-a-week basis since the 160-person agency has other duties to contend with on a regular basis as well.

City council member Gale Brewer at the time said that at that seizure rate, “it would take seven or eight years to close down all the illegal smoke shops.”

Local NYPD precincts, meanwhile, are generally loath to do anything about the illegal shops, unless there is a robbery or shooting involved since cannabis possession has been decriminalized and they don’t want to clog the courts with misdemeanor cases.

But now the Deputy Sheriffs’ Benevolent Association objects to orders to conduct inspections of retail cannabis shops at all. In a February 2 from the Deputy Sheriffs’ Benevolent Association letter addressed to Eric Adams’ lawyer Sylvia Hinds-Radix as well as the Department of Finance the union objects to orders to conduct inspections of retail cannabis shops.

In the letter, the sheriffs’ union states that they have already conducted over 50 regulatory inspections of cannabis shops around New York City this year. However, they express in the letter that to the best of their knowledge, no statute or case law permits such inspections.

If indeed no such statute exists, the letter goes on to say, all arrests and seizures stemming from their inspections of the cannabis shops would be violations of individuals’ 4th and 14th Amendment rights, and therefore illegal.

“The union is concerned about this practice, as it varies greatly from other enforcement actions which are regularly and routinely conducted such as cigarette inspections, and the enforcement of search warrants,” the letter reads.

“Please provide the Deputy Sheriff[s’] Benevolent Association with an explanation as to which statutes permit the Sheriff’s Office to conduct a regulatory inspection at a cannabis retail location so that we can educate and guide our members and avoid any confusion,” the letter concludes.

Unlicensed cannabis shops have been ubiquitous in the city since the legalization of retail cannabis sales. The deputy sheriffs have been involved as one component of the joint task force launched by Eric Adams to contend with the problem.