For the second time this week, the New York City Sheriff's Office inspected smoke shops across the city.
“Inspections are a part of our regular daily duties but now because we are getting so many complaints and requests to conduct these inspections we are going them multiple days a week every week,” explained Deputy Francesca Rosa.
NY1 joined Rosa and Detective Veronica Robles as their task force checked in on Upper West Side smoke shops, making sure the businesses were retailing only the legal products they have a license to sell.
“The law hasn’t caught up to the fact that there are different regulations and we have to enforce what the law is right now, how it stands,” said Robles.
The first stop was on Broadway.
Deputies removed two garbage bags full of mostly flavored tobacco and vape cartridges, which are illegal in the city.
The second shop was Zaza Waza’s Smoke Shop on Columbus Avenue.
As soon as they walk in, deputies found hundreds of illegal products being sold, and even more covered up behind display curtains — including flavored vape pens, untaxed cigarettes, cannabis and THC products.
“This is a flavored vape product and this usually ranges between $10 to $20 and this you can see is a THC flower,” said Rosa. “These are over $40 products and these are just two products so a raid like this is defiantly costing a business 20 upwards of $50,000.”
On each operation, the Sheriff’s Office is joined by other city agencies, which do their own inspections and issue separate violations with hefty fines.
“When we walk out of a location, we will give them between $30 and $50,000 worth of fines for the illegal business they are conducting – which separately we wouldn’t be able to do that, but collectively it is a better approach and more effective response,” said Sheriff Anthony Miranda.
Several violations were issues to the second smoke shop, and 17 bags full of illegal product were seized.
Before heading to the third stop, word had gotten out that inspectors with the Sheriff’s Office were in town, and many businesses closed up shop to avoid an inspection.
“It is [definitely] a cat and mouse game for sure,” said Robles.
After some driving around the deputies spotted another open smoke shop on Broadway. Once inside, they saw several illegal items for sale, and even more hidden.
Trap doors were also found in two of the three shops visited.
“The deputies have become kind of experts at finding these traps. Some of them are very elaborate, some of them are magnetic some of them have hydraulic systems that push things up so it is often a task to go around and find them,” said Miranda.
The third smoke shop had one of the larger ones which led to a back room where detectives seized the majority of product.
Several more bags of illegal and unregulated cannabis as well as vaping products were removed from the shop.
“Any siege is an excellent day at work for us,” said Robles.