New York, I Love You but Are You Really Just Now Legalizing Weed?

Take it from an Oregonian: Recreational cannabis is great, if you do it right.

Dear New York,

Congratulations, you've legalized weed! Finally.

For all your East Coast elitism, you really are behind the times on this one. I mean, the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis? Even Virginia did it before you. My home state of Oregon was the third to do it—seven years ago. Of course, Oregon has long been at the forefront of legalization. We were the first state to decriminalize pot, back in 1973, the same year New York enacted the Rockefeller Laws, some of the toughest drug laws in the country, which called for prison sentences of at least 15 years for those caught with even a small amount of weed. And while it's cute that New Jersey legalized weed in the 2020 election, it was in this election that Oregon became the first state to legalize psychedelic mushroom therapy.

But hey, look at it this way—at least it's better than being the 16th state to legalize, right?

Anyway, yeah, I know firsthand that this is a very exciting development. I first voted for legalization as a sophomore at the University of Oregon in 2012, in the first election in which I was eligible to vote. I smoked a joint with my roommates, naively shocked, as we watched the measure lose, 53% to 46%. "We'll do it in the next election," we said, and we did, just two years later. We erupted in cheers from our couch as we smoked a bowl, texted our friends and parents the grass and fire emojis, and lamented that this had to happen once we were all kind of sick of smoking weed.

But it didn't matter: We were 21 and would never again have to interact with some dude who stashed a Ziploc of pot in an empty deodorant container and made you retrieve it from his sideyard.

When I moved to New York City from Portland two years ago, I went from being allowed to buy weed on nearly every corner to awkwardly drafting WhatsApp messages to some friend of a friend's dealer only to certainly get ripped off. Even more bewildering, during my first election here, in 2019, I witnessed New York also decline to legalize weed, though it was decriminalized.

When New York finally went legal, I saw my Twitter feed explode with sarcastic quips from reporters at national news outlets, saying stuff like, "Now I finally get to try weed!" I had déjà vu: Didn't we already do this? It's the same energy I experienced as a 21-year-old, but seeing it come from mainstream media reporters was bizarre and only served to further widen the gulf in drug policy between our two states.

So, New York, believe me when I tell you what to expect from legal weed: namely, insane demand and a ton of tax revenue. And no, Midtown offices will not transform into a "cloud of smoke," like one of my co-workers asked me upon learning I was from "out west." I guess the good thing about legalizing so late in the game is that you can learn from some of Oregon's early mistakes. Here are some do's and don'ts on what I'm hoping to see now.

Do not replace beloved businesses with dispensaries.

I'll never forget when Barry's, Eugene's Jewish deli, was replaced with a black concrete block dispensary called "Apothca." Similarly in Portland, Serra—the Anthropologie of dispensaries—opened where the Belmont Bodega once stood, while Cannabliss took over Habesha Lounge, the hookah bar I frequented in high school because weed wasn't legal. I can't think of anything sadder than New York bodegas being replaced with the likes of, say, FuggedaBUDit or Budklyn. And while we're on the topic of dispensaries, you don't need psychedelic merch, Bob Marley playlists, and white dudes with dreads asking, "What kind of high do you want?" Dispensaries don't have to be an experience. They can and should just be…like walking into a bodega.

Do expunge crimes and give back to the communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Despite legalization, Oregon didn't pass a measure to expunge marijuana crimes until 2019. New York, to its credit, seems a little more aware of how necessary this is: 40% of tax revenue from cannabis is set to be steered to communities of color and those convicted of cannabis offenses—a disproportionately large number of Black and Brown New Yorkers—to have their records expunged.

Don't produce so much you have to burn the oversupply.

Oregon grew so much weed it couldn't sell it fast enough, leaving farmers with massive piles of moldy weed they had to burn and forcing businesses to lay off employees and sometimes even close. Other states like Washington and Colorado have a certain number of production licenses, but the real fix is federal legislation that would allow growers to ship across state lines. Until that happens, though, just be aware: There is such a thing as too much weed.

Do allow bike delivery.

Oregon didn't allow cannabis bike delivery until 2019. New Yorkers, who will pay double for anything as long as it's delivered, will need this option, especially if dispensaries want to compete with the dealers who already deliver on bikes, like the guy in High Maintenance.

Don't publish a bunch of stories about how grandparents are buying weed.

Please, we don't need any more of these. We get it: Weed is for everyone.

See more of WW's First-Timer's Guide to 420 here!

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