While nearly everyone affiliated with the cannabis trade was at MJBizCon two weeks ago in Las Vegas showing off the latest innovations in pot products, accepting meaningless awards and, of course, smoking metric tons of weed with a like-minded tribe of commercial cannabis culture, I was on the opposite end of the country in New York City on a super-secret, non-pot-related assignment. So, why hang in Gotham rather than Vegas with the other so-called cannabis journalists?
Well, I accepted the gig mainly because, even though a number of cannabis firms invited me out to Sin City to interview CEOs and perhaps ooh and aah over groundbreaking developments in cottonmouth commerce, I had no interest in rubbing elbows in that scene. No sir, not again. The last time I accepted an offer to cover a weed expo was a couple of years ago at the High Times Business Summit in Los Angeles. I tolerated all of about two hours of “Let us show you how we are going to change the cannabis industry” and other broken record sales pitches before blowing it off for a blackout afternoon in Malibu.
That was the weekend I turned down thousands of dollars in freelance work simply because the story everyone was hoping I’d tell was all the same.
“So, as you can see, Mike, we’re all wearing suits now and sporting $50 haircuts, so hopefully most people will forget that what we’re trying to sell them is really just a sharper packaged version of what they used to smoke back in high school. Please tell the world that cannabis is safer than alcohol, it will cure cancer, athletes foot – whatever ails them, really — and it essentially assures that all of the world’s problems will go up in smoke. Only don’t use that phrase because we don’t wish to be associated in with the Cheech and Chong culture. Wait, unless you think Tommy Chong or Cheech Marin might endorse our products. Also, don’t even mention that what we’re selling can get the people high. We’re medicating now. That makes all the difference.”
Thanks, but no thanks. By the way, I didn’t leave Los Angeles empty handed.
New York City
So, there I was – boom – Manhattan. Our cab driver dropped us off at the Hotel Edison in Times Square in the late afternoon, just as the winter storm that seemed to be chasing us all day began wreaking havoc on the city. The sleet that came along with all of that nonsense was pelting me in the face as if I had insulted a member of its family. So much, in fact, that it made it difficult for me to see anything at all by the time the driver started handing us our luggage from the back of the van. But not all of my senses were crippled by the cruel, arctic winds. It didn’t take long before I picked up the distinct odor of marijuana drifting up from somewhere in my immediate vicinity.
“Someone’s smoking weed out here,” I said to my daughter, who was acting as my dedicated assistant during the trip. “That’s always a good sign when weed is the first scent you pick up on when you roll into town.”
Still, I was perplexed. The idea that a devout cannabis enthusiast was standing in an alley somewhere, propped up against a building getting red-eyed and ripped caught me a little off guard, especially considering that we were smack dab in the center of the busiest parts of the metropolis. Not to mention it was bone chilling cold outside and the wintery mix that was coming down was about the last thing I would ever endure in pursuit of a buzz. “Whoever is getting stoned in this mess is as desperate as they come,” I said as we made our way toward the entrance of the hotel lobby. But then I took a look around and thought “Can’t say that I blame anyone for wanting to be as high as possible in this racket.”
It was chaos-o-plenty from where I was standing, and I was just a lowly visitor sent there to observe and maybe scrawl a few snide comments for publication. Anyone catching a buzz in that area had to be seeking refuge from a busy kitchen or some other high pressure, go-go-go, lunatic paced service job where workers are forced to contend with rude tourists in exchange for crap wages. I attempted to pinpoint the origins of the elusive toker because there was definitely a story to be told. “New Yorker Smokes Weed In Ice To Prevent Becoming A Serial Killer.” But I was never able to pick the culprit out of the crowd. I guess that’s the luxury of smoking weed in plain sight. It could have been anybody.
The next morning following breakfast at Friedmans — a meal which doubled as a necessary hangover remedy for yours truly — my daughter and I were standing in the elevator on the way back up our room on the 11th floor discussing the itinerary for the day. I was anxious to get down to the business at hand as quickly as possible so we could free ourselves up for a night on the town by the time early evening hit. It was my daughters first visit to the city, so there were countless activities and sights that I wanted to show her before a plane whisked us back to reality on Sunday morning.
Little did we know, we were just a few seconds away from a situation that we would be having us laughing pretty much nonstop for the rest of the day.
When the elevator doors opened up, we were hit in the face once again by the odoriferous presence of morning marijuana. But unlike the whiff of weed we caught on the sidewalk of 47th street following our arrival, this was not just a hint of a busboy taking a few hits off a joint. From what I could tell, there must have been a communal smoke circle taking place in one of the rooms and those wild-eyed wake-and-bakers were chiefing it up by the pound.
“Good lord,” I shouted. “It’s like being backstage at a Pantera concert, circa 1994.” Because, whatever prevention method those clowns were using to keep the smoke from escaping the room and wafting into the hallway, let me tell you, it was all but successful. They had to be thinking, “to hell with putting a rolled up towel in front of the door or any of that other stuff we’ve read about in High Times magazine, this weed is so dankalicious that nothing of this Earth can contain it. So why front?”
Meanwhile, the entire 11th floor was hazing over with a thin layer of smoke, a scene that could have only been appropriately accentuated by the sound of a foghorn in the distance. For a minute I thought we might have been catapulted through a portal or some gateway into another dimension and we were now standing in some bizarre purgatory between $13 scrambled eggs and Portland, Maine.
“Someone may have set a skunk on fire up here,” I said, glancing over at the lady housekeeper sorting towels a few feet from away.
“Where’s the pot party?” I asked her jokingly. “You know, la marijuana.”
“¿Dónde está la hierba?” she replied, pointing across the hall. “Ahi…There. Mucho loco.”
Mucho loco, indeed!
Marijuana is not really legal in New York. The state passed a restrictive medical marijuana program several years ago, allowing patients with specific conditions to gain access to non-smokable forms of the herb, but the state is far from having the liberal pot policies that we are seeing in other parts of the country. However, small-time marijuana possession is decriminalized statewide – even in NYC. Anyone caught with under 25 grams of grass can be penalized with a fine of $100. The fine increases depending on whether it is a second or third offense. Habitual offenders can also face a short stint in jail. This is something the NYPD has had some difficulty with in the past.
But public consumption is not allowed. In fact, people caught smoking weed in New York City were once at risk of serving 90 days in jail and fines reaching $250. This offense is now supposed to be handed with a small fine. However, the penalties for pot possession increase exponentially if a person is found with any other variation of marijuana other than raw flower. This means edibles, concentrate, oils – all of these pot products can land a person in the slammer for up to a year. However, the state is considering the legalization of recreational use in the upcoming 2019 legislative session.
This is the reason I decided to pen this piece. There will inevitably be conservative lawmakers who will oppose this reform if and when it comes up for a vote. But these naysayers of the nug should know that prohibition is not stopping New Yorkers from buying marijuana, nor is it keeping them from smoking it in the streets. They should also understand that the state’s black market is set to flourish even more than it already is now that the recreational pot market has gone (or is going) legal in more eastern jurisdictions. Black market pot gets better as more states legalize. Either way, New Yorkers win.
New York might as well legalize the leaf and benefit from the $700 million in tax revenue that is predicted to follow, according to report published over the summer by the state’s Health Department. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a former anti-pot warrior who just snagged his third term, is onboard to get it done next year. After all, his administration determined this year that the benefits outweigh the risks.
“The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use marijuana – and we determined the best way to do that was to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” Tyrone Stevens, a spokesperson for the Governor, said in a recent statement.
“Now that the listening sessions have concluded, the working group has begun accessing and reviewing the feedback we received and we expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal during the 2019 legislative session.”
For the next several days, my daughter and I smelled marijuana burning in the streets of Times Square, near the Museum of Modern Art, the Chelsea District, Central Park, Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower and various other spots all over the city. It was on Broadway, somewhere between 44th and 30th, when I realized that all of this prohibition business was at the end of its rope… and quite possibly very soon.
We passed by a homeless man holding a cardboard cutout that read “F*ck Trump! He Smoked My Weed.” His donations bucket was loaded up far more than any other I had seen all weekend. Some might say this was because his plea for cash was a step above the usual box-cut billboard of street-level poverty. But I don’t think so. I’d like to think that both New Yorkers and tourists alike were able to sympathize with what it is like to go without.
Legalize it, New York! You know you want to!
Source: Mike Adams, Forbes