South Queens, NY (March 31, 2024) - On Thursday, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar continued her citywide “Operation: SMOKEOUT” campaign, bringing together a citywide coalition in Times Square calling for passage of her SMOKEOUT Act (A8428A), which she authored. The bill will grant municipalities across the State, including New York City, the authority to immediately shutter all illegal, unlicensed smoke shops once and for all. The rallies called upon Albany to include the SMOKEOUT Act in the State’s enacted budget, expected to pass on April 4.

Following the Times Square rally was the “Bronx Smokeout” rally Saturday in Pelham Bay in the Bronx.

The two events came after a successful City Hall rally in February, where a coalition of people from all Five Boroughs turned out demanding passage of the SMOKEOUT Act. Every rally has drawn support from elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, and New Yorkers of every background.

At the Crossroads of the World, Assemblywoman Rajkumar rallied a diverse coalition that included Times Square Alliance President Tom Harris, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, East Midtown Partnership President Rob Byrnes, Garment District Alliance President Barbara A. Blair, and Edgardo R. Marrero from the New York State Department of Health. All were united in enthusiastic support of enacting Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s bill and shutting down all illegal smoke shops.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar addressed the crowd, “The SMOKEOUT Act will allow New York City to smoke ‘em all out and shut down all the illegal cannabis stores in short order. The State budget is due in seven days. We are asking that the SMOKEOUT Act be incorporated into the State budget so we can do what all New Yorkers know is right and shut down these illegal cannabis shops once and for all.”

She led the vociferous crowd in a chant of “Smoke ‘em out!”

Councilwoman Brewer professed her admiration for the Assemblywoman and called for State action to allow local enforcement of cannabis laws. Councilwoman Brewer engaged in a monthslong Herculean effort just to close one shop in her district, Zaza Waza. She had to do it by repeatedly reporting the shop for selling untaxed cigarettes—a violation the City has the power to enforce.

She said, “I’m a big fan of the Assemblymember. There may be—I don’t know, 1,200, 6,000, nobody knows—smoke shops. One, one, Zaza Waza at 87th and Columbus, I was able to close it but doing it with tobacco. We cannot do it with cannabis. We need State legislation in order to do it with cannabis…I closed down one and there are 90 in my district.”

The Times Square Alliance became a vocal supporter of the SMOKEOUT Act in response to the proliferation of illegal smoke shops blighting the neighborhood. Last year, 30% of retail openings in Times Square were illegal smoke shops, which have seen two homicides and one shooting.

Times Square Alliance President Harris said, “The Times Square community is thrilled that State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar is championing the SMOKEOUT bill that will allow local law enforcement to rid the City of illegal, unlicensed smoke shops once and for all. I am urging Governor Hochul to include this in her budget.”

Harris noted that, in 2023, the State only closed 9 out of 36,000 illegal smoke shops, and at this rate it would take 4,000 years to close all the shops.

East Midtown Partnership President Byrnes echoed Harris’ sentiment.

President Byrnes said, “New York City after several years is on the verge of a very strong retail recovery…That recovery is in danger from the proliferation of illegal smoke shops in our community. We need the teeth in the law to address what every other industry has teeth to back it up. Thereby we strongly support [the SMOKEOUT Act] and we are so glad we have Assemblymember Rajkumar and Mayor Eric Adams, are on our side, and we encourage everyone in the public to support them too.”

Edgardo R. Marrero from the New York State Department of Health discussed the public health risk the illegal smoke shops pose. He agreed that legalizing cannabis was important because enforcement had targeted communities like his, but said that the proliferation of illegal shops was making these communities worse.

“These illegal shops are acting just like the thug drug dealer on the corner. They replaced the drug dealers by opening stores and operating in full view, and they are putting our children and our families and our communities at risk. They are a scourge on our communities, not just in Time Square but in every part of the City. So we call on Governor Hochul and the entire Assembly to pass and sign the SMOKEOUT Act,” Marrero said.

Assemblywoman Rajkumar continued “Operation: SMOKEOUT” on Saturday in Pelham Bay, where she brought together Bronx community leaders. Local representative and SMOKEOUT Act co-sponsor Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, seeing the harm of illegal smoke shops in his district, had implored Assemblywoman Rajkumar to rally his neighborhood in support of her act.

In the Bronx, Assemblywoman Rajkumar said, “I have never seen an issue that has united New Yorkers across all five boroughs, across all backgrounds, across all parties. We are standing here today to say what all New Yorkers want, and that is to close these illegal smoke shops once and for all, and to do it quickly.”

Assemblyman Benedetto said, “I am very fortunate to be here with my Albany colleague Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who has a bill that will begin to give the police and localities the enforcement ability and enforcement rights they needed in the first place. I want to thank Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar for being here today.”

Francisco Marte, President of the Bodega and Small Business Association said, “Thank you, Jenifer, for doing the great job that you’re doing here. I appreciate this act, the SMOKEOUT. Thank you Mike Benedetto. Yes, I’m supporting this because this [proliferation of illegal smoke shops] is making an effect on our community. We can now see in every neighborhood they are opening those smoke shops. They be selling to minors, too. They don’t got any regulation. They just want to make money off our kids. So we need this SMOKEOUT to be approved.”

45th Precinct Community Council President Robert Beiber said, “Thank you Mike and thank you [Assemblywoman Rajkumar] so much for joining us. Today we need to get the smoke shops closed down. They’re illegally in business. We get complaints at the precinct Community Council every month and the police want to do the job. They really want to do the job. They haven’t been given the legal right to close these places down. So this act, this SMOKEOUT Act will give them the legal right and the tools that the police department needs…Now the response is coming from our elected officials and we are grateful for that.”

Assemblywoman Rajkumar has gained overwhelming support for her SMOKEOUT Act. She now boasts the endorsements of the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Buffalo News, Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda, the Cannabis Association of New York, the New York Cannabis Retail Association, and law enforcement throughout the State.

The “Operation: SMOKEOUT” campaign will continue in the coming days with more events to be announced.


 Enclosed: Photos of Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s SMOKEOUT Act Times Square and Pelham Bay rallies.





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