Bronx Assembly Members Benedetto and Zaccaro Jr. take aim at unlicensed cannabis shops

Bronx Assembly Members Michael Benedetto (left) and John Zaccaro have joined Queens Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar in calling for a crackdown on unlicensed cannabis shops throughout the city.
Photo courtesy Benedetto’s office

Assembly Members Michael Benedetto and John Zaccaro Jr. have joined forces in an effort to shut down unlicensed cannabis shops that have proliferated throughout the state. 

At a weekend press conference, the lawmakers pushed for the SMOKEOUT Act, sponsored by Jennifer Rajkumar of Queens and co-sponsored by Benedetto, Zaccaro Jr. and others, to be included in the state budget.

According to Rajkumar’s office, there are about 36,000 shops throughout the state and 1,500 in New York City that sell cannabis illegally. 

The bill would grant authority to local authorities throughout the state — including New York City — to immediately shut down unlicensed smoke shops and seize illegal products. As the law currently stands, the NYPD and sheriff’s office can only inspect shops that have tobacco licenses.

Some elected officials have been locked in a battle to shut down smoke shops in their districts — and it shows no sign of stopping. 

“We’re really dealing with a crisis here,” Zaccaro Jr. told the Bronx Times in October 2023. Additionally, Bronx community boards have rejected at least 25 applications since that time.

And while unlicensed shops have become ubiquitous in practically every neighborhood, the Bronx saw the opening of its fourth legal shop last week.

“By any objective measure, the rollout of the legalized marijuana market has been an absolute failure in New York state,” said Benedetto, who represents Throggs Neck, Co-Op City and other East Bronx neighborhoods. 

The illegal shops are a burden to the district that attracts crime, consumes police resources and puts the public health and safety at risk, Benedetto said. He said legislation like the SMOKEOUT Act is needed to “clean up this mess that has plagued our communities, contributing to the deterioration of our quality of life.”

Zaccaro Jr., who represents Allerton and Pelham Parkway, seconded that frustration. 

“My office hears from concerned residents each and every day about the rising number of smoke shops selling unregulated and illicit cannabis,” said Zaccaro Jr. 

In addition to supporting Rajkumar’s bill, Zaccaro and Benedetto have introduced three more bills aimed at reforming the legal cannabis market. 

Benedetto sponsored a bill that would not allow any new smoke shop licenses until all illegal shops are shut down. 

The first of two bills sponsored by Zaccaro Jr. would require the state cannabis authorities to notify local lawmakers when applications for retail dispensaries are submitted from within their district. The second bill would allow for revocation of tobacco, liquor or lottery licenses for shops found to possess or sell illegal cannabis.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes