“The degree to which Manhattan air is now just saturated with the aroma of marijuana is frankly absurd,” tweeted writer Thomas Chatterton Williams back in January. “New York Smells Like a Declining City,” declared The Wall Street Journal last month. “It’s like everybody’s smoking a joint now,” New York City’s own mayor, Eric Adams, commented last year.
Though New York state legalized recreational weed in 2021, it’s taken two years for the cannabis industry to actually get it off the ground. Just a few dispensaries have opened up in the city so far, but much has been made about its alleged transformation into either a Reefer Madness hellscape or a stoner Xanadu, depending on who you ask.
“Let’s be blunt—legal weed is turning New York workers into zombies,” wrote Steve Cuozzo for the New York Post just days ago, complaining of worse customer service than he encountered yesteryear. “the weed / garbage / piss cocktail of smells in parts of manhattan is truly nauseating,” one Twitter user chimed in. “The biggest change is the smell of marijuana. It’s EVERYWHERE. Inescapable. It’s made the city a lot grimier, and much more unsafe,” added another.
Now that they no longer have to fear arrest, more people may indeed be lighting up in public. As with many things in New York, private behavior—a couple’s fight, a parent disciplining their child, a group of friends who are too boisterously drunk—spills into public spaces. We’re tasked with learning how to tolerate, or at least look past, the low-grade deviancy and etiquette missteps we encounter in streets and subway stations, shared hallways and stoops. “For the record, I don’t care if people smoke (or drink!), but the imposition of the odor all over public spaces is weird and feels deeply unserious,” Chatterton Williams (one of the more reasonable pot critics) added.
Still, many of the tweets and articles in this genre clumsily attempt to underscore the same idea: New York is getting worse by the day—and pot must be to blame.
But the aroma of weed in the air ought to be interpreted as people relishing their newfound freedom, a sign that tolerance toward people’s mind-alteration preferences has rightfully prevailed.
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