Vape shop loses license after repeated sales to minors

It was the tale of two tobacco shops at North Branch City Council June 22, with two different approaches to failing compliance checks and facing the possibility of losing their tobacco license. 

The council moved forward with revoking the tobacco license for Cloud X Vapes, and agreed to provide E-Cig Guyz with another opportunity to prove his business could remain in compliance in the future. 

Cloud X Vapes

Introducing the problems city staff and the police detachment had with Cloud X Vapes, North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer summarized the issues the business had complying with city ordinance, the Governor’s Executive Order relating to COVID-19, and problems the business owners had in other cities being in compliance with tobacco ordinances.  

Originally applying for a tobacco license for Cloud X Vapes Jan. 13, 2019, William Shocinski found out he could be denied a license due to a prior drug offense found in his background check. A second application was received Jan. 17, 2019 from Shocinski’s girlfriend, Courtney James, which was approved by the city council Jan. 22, 2019, according to Meyer.

The first tobacco compliance check of Cloud X Vapes took place in June of 2019 under a “Congratulate and Educate” grant through the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and the business failed by selling a tobacco product to the underage decoy. 

A fine was not issued because the compliance check under the grant did not allow for the issuance of fines. Instead, the business received educational materials, according to Meyer.

A subsequent tobacco compliance check took place in Aug. of 2019, which the business passed, Meyer said.

In April  2020, the police department received reports of the business being open in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order on April 2, 3 and 13. An employee was spoken with and warned of the violation the first time, and Meyer contacted James and warned her the second time. 

The third time, James and an employee were cited by the Chisago County Attorney, and James was subsequently convicted of that offense July 21, 2020, according to Meyer. 

The police department received eight complaints of the business selling tobacco products to minors between Feb. 2020 and Dec. 2020, which led to a meeting with James, Meyer and City Clerk Regini Varma Jan. 11, 2021 to address those concerns.  

James assured Varma and Meyer she would speak with and provide training to all of her employees, according to Meyer.

However, the police department received two additional complaints of underage sales. With the cooperation of a parent who filed one of the complaints, the city developed probable cause and the business was issued a $200 administrative fine per city ordinance May 17.

Per ordinance, license holders can contest the administrative offense or pay the administrative fines within 20 days after they are given notice of the violation, neither of which James has done, according to Meyer. 

Another compliance check took place May 7, and the business again failed, selling tobacco products to an underage decoy without verifying their age or asking for identification. 

It was also noted by the officer on duty during the compliance check that there was no signage to indicate that individuals under the age of 21 were not allowed to enter the establishment and observed several individuals under the age of 21 inside of the business at the time of the compliance check, which is also a violation of city ordinance and state statutes. 

The business was issued an administrative fine of $500 for the second violation within 12 months per city ordinance. James failed to contest the offense or pay the fine until June 22, according to Meyer. The license holder attempted to pay the fine that day using a credit card, but it did not go through, Meyer noted, adding that James promised to send in payment. 

Other pertinent information provided by Meyer:

Shocinski, James’ boyfriend and original tobacco license applicant, owned the Cloud X store in Forest Lake and Forest Lake City Council revoked the business’ tobacco license in Dec. 2018 after its third failed compliance check within one year. The manager for that business, Cole Nye, was then a manger/employee of the Cloud X Vapes in North Branch. 

James was issued a tobacco license in the City of Buffalo for a business called Northshore Vape, which was revoked in Dec. 2020 after the Buffalo Police Department documented five separate instances of sales to minors during a four month period. Shocinski was listed as the manager of that business. 

The North Branch Police Department is also aware that the State of New York Office of the Attorney General sent a Cease and Desist Notification letter to Shocinski and Cloud X Vapes in July 2020 for online sales of flavored vape products to New York residents, including minors, in violation of New York state law.

James was sent a letter and an email notifying her of the council meeting, but she was not in attendance, according to Meyer, who recommended revocation of Cloud X Vapes tobacco license and to consider not renewing its tobacco license in 2022.

“There is clearly a trend and I’m glad that it’s being brought to us to take seriously,” said North Branch Council Member Amanda Darwin. “As the parent of a minor and having a lot of minors in my circle as far as sports go, I appreciate that stores do their due diligence in protecting minors from things that can be addictive and harmful to them. Clearly the license holders and their affiliates do not take that responsibility seriously.”

“The track record speaks for itself, obviously, and that’s unfortunate. I don’t like to see any businesses just shut down, but when you can’t follow the rules as a business owner here in North Branch I would totally expect nothing less than taking the responsibility and the authority to make sure that they can’t operate under those guidelines any longer,” said North Branch Council Member Kelly Neider. 

Council Member Patrick Meacham verified with Meyer that all tobacco license holders in the city undergo the same compliance checks. 

Mayor Jim Swenson said, “I want to be supportive of our businesses in our community, but I’m hearing it from the council, from every one of us, that we’re not happy with how this operation is going. Obviously selling to underage kids is not a good thing.” 

E-Cig Guyz

A tobacco compliance check took place July 24, 2020 at E-Cig Guyz, and the business failed the compliance check and sold to the underage decoy, according to Meyer. 

The business was issued an administrative fine of $200 and the clerk who sold to the minor was issued an administrative fine of $100 per our city ordinance.

Then, North Branch Police Department received a complaint in Feb. 2021 the business sold a tobacco product to a minor. 

The investigation developed probable cause to believe the underage sale took place and the business was issued an administrative fine of $500 per city ordinance.

Another compliance check took place May 7, and the business again failed the check and sold to the underage decoy, according to Meyer. The clerk who sold to the underage decoy this time was the same clerk who sold to the decoy in July 2020.

This time,  the clerk was issued an administrative fine of $200 due to being the second violation within 12 months.  However, it was the business’ third violation within 12 months, and the city may permanently revoke the tobacco license under the provisions of city ordinance, Meyer said. He also informed the council the licensee and the employee have paid the administrative fines and business owner Josef Kranavek advised that the employee who was involved in the underage sales no longer works for the business. Kranavek was present at the meeting.

“The license holder, in my opinion, is trying to resolve and get back into compliance,” Meyer said. “My recommendation is to hold off on a revocation. It feels like, I want to be fair with E-Cig, just like we were with Cloud X. We contacted the owner (of Cloud X), and we met with her and tried to give her some time to comply. We did not do that with Mr. Kranavek. I am recommending to hold off. Now, if the council chooses to hold off, I can assure you the PD can continue to conduct compliance checks and monitor any complaints. If problems with the business continue, I will be back here and recommending revocation. But, the council does have the right per city ordinance to revoke that license at this time, as well.”

“I appreciate the fact that you are here in chambers tonight,” Neider told Kranavek. “It shows an initiative to potentially make some changes. Just keep your nose clean and have your employees do what’s right. I’m fine with allowing him to continue his business here in North Branch under the guidelines that Chief Meyer has set forward and according to our ordinances.”

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