What happens to the “weed spot” now that weed is legal?


When recreational marijuana was legalized in New York state in March, much of the change wasn’t immediate. But there was an immediately observable difference: While it’s not yet legal to sell or buy marijuana in New York City, smoking a joint on the streets is no longer a crime. As long as they observe the same restrictions as on cigarettes, smokers can light pretty much anywhere they want.

This means that the stealthy journey to the “weed spot” – the reliable and low-key loading dock, the river cove, the roof, whatever – is no longer necessary to smoke a blunt. And while some may miss the routine, this is generally not the case for New Yorkers of color, who have been fined and arrested for possession of marijuana in a much higher rate than others in the city.

Here, a look at how the experience of getting high on the streets of New York City compares before and after legalization.

Sarah Pagan, 30, office manager

The Central Park blockhouse is “basically a part of my cannabis story,” said Sarah Pagan.

“When I started smoking at 18 with my ex-boyfriend,” she recalls, “we would quit school and come here.” At the time, she was living with her parents in Brooklyn, and the couple ran into the blockhouse, originally used as a war fort, nestled on a path that overlooks the park. When the trees aren’t growing, she says, you can see down to street level.

“It’s serene,” Ms. Pagan said. “You start to forget you’re in town, until one of those ambulances from Lenox Hill Hospital passes by. “

Because it’s in the woods and up high, she wasn’t afraid of being harassed by the police, but was always sure not to stay too long or too late at night, preferring mid-morning or early afternoon for security reasons as a woman.

Ms Pagan said she felt more embarrassed about smoking on the street because that’s where kids tend to be. This is “one of the strangest things about legalizing weed now, because yes you can technically just walk down the street where you want now and smoke, but isn’t that so obnoxious? than cigarette smoke? ” she wondered.

Mary Pryor, 39, entrepreneur and cannabis advocate

Mary Pryor, originally from Detroit, moved to New York City in 2005, and she turned to Pebble Beach along Dumbo’s waterfront when she wants to smoke – a place, she said, that resonates with Ifa, the African religion that she practices.

“You come here, you talk to water, you connect with Oshun,” Ms. Pryor said, referring to a goddess associated with water in her religion. She said she usually went early in the morning and sat alone to “talk to my ancestors, talk about things in my head.”

Although she admits that she’s not doing anything different now, the fact that it’s legal to smoke marijuana gives her a certain level of confidence, “to smoke and look straight in the eye at a police officer and ‘to be black’.

Ms Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive, a collective focused on the marketing and advocacy of people of color working with cannabis, said she wanted to see New York “not make the same mistakes other states make. “, highlighting access to capital as one of the many ways other states have failed.

Ms Pryor, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, described her tobacco use as follows: “Without cannabis I wouldn’t be able to function and stay here.

Colin Thierens, 34, photographer

Colin Thierens has found his place after a recent breakup. He normally smoked while hanging out with a friend in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend. But after they broke up and he moved in with his parents – not marijuana fans – he started going to Prospect Park instead.

“We could have smoked on the Parkway,” referring to Eastern Parkway, where he lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, but before legalization that made him vulnerable to law enforcement.

He got into the habit of going just after sunset to a set of raised benches just above street level. “We weren’t even planning to come here specifically,” he said. “I didn’t even know it was here. Last summer during the pandemic, the place was like a backyard for some people.

He was also protected from the road, so the police passed by while he and his friend smoked undetected.

Although he smokes regularly in Brooklyn, he described an altercation with the police not in the city but on a trip to New Jersey.

“I was outside and smoked like I smoke here in Brooklyn.” He was arrested and arrested and ended up paying a fine.

This moment contrasts sharply with his current experience.

“We did it,” he said. “It’s just nice that you don’t have to worry about it at all now.”

Risa Elledge, 26, musician and part-time digital marketer

At the height of the pandemic, Risa Elledge left Bushwick, Brooklyn, to live with her musical collaborator and boyfriend in Princeton, NJ. But she always goes back to Domino Park on the Williamsburg waterfront whenever she gets to the point, she said, where “I just need to get out of Princeton.” She prefers to smoke on the steps of the pyramid in front of the water fountain; there she could draw or dance, carrying a small speaker that connects to a belt loop.

When she comes to town, it is in this park that she starts before going to see friends elsewhere.

Despite the new marijuana guidelines, the change in her mindset is still underway.

“With the grass, I feel like it went well,” she said. “When the cops are on sight, I’m just on edge, of course.”

John Best, 64, real estate agent

“The first time I came here was in 1967,” John Best said of Washington Square Park, known for decades as a smokers’ paradise.

Mr Best, who grew up in Brooklyn but now lives in Fort Lee, NJ, remembers visiting the park when he was around 9 or 10 with his mother, who worked across the street in NYU.

“The hippies,” he said, “are the ones who really started socializing and smoking here in the park.”

As a young teenager he focused on basketball, so he didn’t participate as much as some of his friends, but he was impressed with the weather. He came mainly to flirt, but in the late 1970s, he said, he started “dabbing and smoking a little more.”

The police, of course, have always been a concern.

“If a cop walked into the park, he might catch someone in the end smoking,” he said, “but by the time he grabbed that person, everyone knew the cops were the. “

Karamvir Bhatti, 28, model and graphic designer

Karamvir Bhatti lives in Elmhurst, Queens, but prefers not to indulge in it; it’s too residential and she wants to avoid smoking near the children in her neighborhood.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, which she particularly enjoys at sunset, is a place she feels safe smoking marijuana, but she admits it has a lot to do with who she is.

“I am an Indian; I’m not black, ”she said. “I’m in trouble because it means something different. I really realized that when my last partner – he was black, and we were going to smoke and he was like, ‘Yo, I can’t do this where you wanna go.’ “

Ms Bhatti said she is usually left alone when she smokes on the streets – although in Elmhurst it’s a bit different. Her neighbors “don’t care if they have to stare at you, they’ll make you uncomfortable,” she said.

“I am a very free-spirited person, but I am also privileged in these areas where I have been able to do anything, anytime,” she said.

Susan Venditti, 64, retired public school teacher

Susan Venditti remembers smoking alongside Prospect Park as a teenager in the 1970s. She grew up near Windsor Terrace, and although she now lives on Staten Island, she has recently been to Brooklyn for her own sake. take care of his sister in the house where they grew up.

“We always hung around the park side,” she said. “And when we were able to collect our $ 5 and take a trip to Flatbush, we were able to buy our nickel bag.” She took her first puff of marijuana while playing hooky as a student at Brooklyn Tech High School, and she suggested that the way she had been treated as a smoker over the years hadn’t changed much. . For the most part, she was beyond suspicion.

“Even now,” she said, “I was walking around smoking a joint, no one would think it was coming from me. “

Since retiring as a specialty teacher, she has become a marijuana advocate, working with the New York chapter of NORML, an organization focused on revising marijuana laws.

Regardless of what you do for a living, “there is a time and a place for it,” she said. “Just like you have to wait for a cocktail after work. “

Even with legalization, she says, the stigma remains: “When I worked, I wasn’t that open.

She added: “I think if I was still teaching I would probably want to remain anonymous.”

She believes that if more and more people talk about smoking marijuana, it will reduce the long-standing negative associations in society.

In the meantime, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

“When the law first came out, I found myself forcing myself to have a joint,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t want it, but I had to exercise my right.”

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