Moving to Legalization: The Delicate Gray Space of NYC Cannabis

Erica Roane

It's a Saturday night in Brooklyn. While you wouldn't mind having a drink or two, what you really want to do is roll up your favorite flower or take a few puffs and put one in the air. There is always the option of enjoying cannabis at home but then you remember something. The last time you were in Crown Heights, you stumbled upon this really cool bar with an outdoor space where the patrons were consuming cannabis. Some were were rolling up their flower, while others were vaping. You then take a mental note of this technically illegal, gray-area, cannabis space.

In all, you were in a 420-environment that you claim yourself to have discovered. Before you pat yourself on the back for too long, there's a good chance that most people in that environment discovered this "honey pot" of a venue the same way. Rest assured, throughout the five boroughs of NYC there are plenty more where these came from.

Next to New Delhi, New York City is the top consumer of black-market cannabis. Each year the five boroughs that make up New York consume 77.44 tons or 170,725 pounds of cannabis each year. Although the state could generate upwards an additional revenue of $155 million, recreational marijuana conception marjiuana is still illegal. Yes it’s decriminalized and the police pretty much look the other way however the plant is still federally illegal.

Between the 100,000 medical marijuana licenses throughout New York State and the thousands of users who still consume marijuana via the black market, New York falls into the exclusive “Gray Area,” an underground culture where cannabis lovers across all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds get together and consume. Similar to sports and music, cannabis has the tendency to bring people together. Add in the exclusivity factor and the “speakeasy” vibe that New York accommodates, an entire industry of underground marijuana conception has been birthed.

As we embark on 2020, it will be interesting to see how New York City continues to navigate recreation marijuana scene. The New York Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) recently hosted the NYC NORML Awards which honored marijuana speakeasies in the city. These secret and coveted spaces host events such as house comedy nights and live music with only a select group of people knowing of the location.

These types of establishments are the keep the underground scene alive in New York. As cannabis continues to normalize, there will be more social and recreational opportunities surrounding the plant. The question is if cannabis aficionados will still support the “gray” area once full legalization of cannabis takes place.