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Exploring Cannabis Culture: New York

cannabis new york
Written by Joseph Mcqueen

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”– Tom Wolfe 

New York, New York It’s a wonderful town and on the 31st of March, 2021 it became even more wonderful as New York State became the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis. A progressive move from the cultural capital of the US, the windy city and one that we think deserves applause and air time. So, in this, the latest article in our series on cannabis culture around the world, we’ll be walking the streets of New York City. But, what is Cannabis culture? Well here at CBD testers, we believe that it’s ‘the way that cannabis can be perceived and treated within a society, city or country.’  Now, when we say Cannabis, we also mean the products of cannabis including the incredible oils CBD and THC, as well as any other way cannabis and its products influence a culture.- So, hail that yellow cab, grab a slice of pizza, but watch where you’re going because  ‘we’re walkin here!’ as we investigate the Cannabis culture in the big apple, the windy city, New York City baby!

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New York City  

New York City is the largest city in the state of New York (Although interestingly not the capital, that’s Albany) it can be found in a natural Harbour around the Hudson bay on the North Atlantic coast of America. New York is one of the most famous cities in the world and is often described as the cultural, financial and media capital of the world. It’s split up into five boroughs, each with its own unique identity: The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. New York City is also the most populated and most densely populated city in the whole of the United States and is an icon of the western world. The city has played host to some of the most iconic films and has even been referenced in a host of songs and musicals, maybe most famously by Frank Sinatra in the eponymous New York: 

‘Start spreading the news
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York’

With so much happening in this incredible city it’s not surprising that Cannabis culture is so rich. The city has a beautiful history with Cannabis, made popular by the Jazz and Beat scenes in Harlem and Greenwich Village. Writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg used to smoke Cannabis with many Jazz artists, writing about it in novels and poems and spreading the word about the joys of Cannabis. In the 70’s and 80’s New York became one of the most important cities in the movement towards legalization of Cannabis and indeed the push for medical Cannabis with movements like Green Aid, supporting Cannabis use for Aids sufferers. With this clear historical link, one can only imagine how the legalization of Cannabis will have impacted the culture around the drug.

Before we delve into the Cannabis culture of modern day new york, let’s discuss some of the top sights to see in the windy city: 

Statue of Liberty

An Icon of American Culture, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France in 1886 and stands proudly on Ellis Island, welcoming in newcomers to the city. You can book tours of Ellis Island and can even climb to the top of her crown for a bird’s eye view of New York bay.

Times Square 

The iconic Times square is a must seen in the city that never sleeps. Famous for its neon-lights and broadway billboards, you can take in a show or even pop into the brilliant Museum of Modern Arts. Although if you don’t fancy crowds, then Times Square might not be for you as it is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world.

Central Park

When in New York you have to visit the 38 Acre park right in the middle of Manhattan Island. With the legalisation of smoking Cannabis outside, you can even enjoy a relaxing smoke in this beautiful patch of greenery.

Cannabis in New York

Is It Legal?

Yes! Since March 31st 2021, it is legal to possess and use Cannabis for recreation purposes as well as medical purposes. So, what exactly can we do in the Big Apple now that Cannabis is legalized? According to a comprehensive review by JD Supra, adults over 21 can now legally possess up to 3 ounces of Cannabis and up to 24 grams of Cannabis oils, for edibles and vaporisers. Cannabis will eventually be allowed to be purchased from state licensed dispensaries, located across the city, though for now this isn’t possible as the state is still finalizing how the licensing process will work and how to tax Cannabis sales to benefit as many people as possible.. Cannabis being able to be smoked outside is quite different to some Eastern States, including Colorado  where smoking is only allowed inside and in private and public consumption is banned.  

Is It Illegal?

Even though there are so many ways to enjoy Cannabis legally in New York, there are some restrictions still in place, so what can’t you do? Possession of more than 3 ounces of Cannabis can still lead to punishment. 3-8 ounces could result in a misdemeanour and a fine, whilst possession of anything over 8 ounces can be classed as a felony. As expected, it is illegal to operate any vehicles in the city whilst under the influence of Cannabis, so make sure you have a taxi booked if you’re thinking of consuming any Cannabis on your trip. It is also illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess or use Cannabis or some Cannabis oils.

You can’t smoke Cannabis in any locations where smoking tobacco is prohibited and of course you can’t cross any state lines whilst carrying Cannabis or Cannabis products illegal in neighboring states. As the law is very new, there are still certain issues being discussed. The legal purchasing of Cannabis being one of them. It is still illegal to purchase Cannabis and some officials say that it could be a while before state registered, licensed vendors will be around to sell Cannabis. For Medical Marijuana, if you are granted a prescription by your doctor, you can legally pick up Cannabis from a dispensary.

You can have a look at the full laws around cannabis in the bill itself here.

The City’s General Attitude to Cannabis 

New York has always had a relaxed stance on the smoking of Cannabis and has had a long history with Cannabis, linking back to the Beats and the Hippie movements, so the general attitude, even before the legalization of Cannabis was quite relaxed. A large-scale report by NYC health found that in 2016 34% of NYC adults ages 18-25 reported Cannabis use within the past year and 27% of 26-34 year olds as well and all of this before legalization was even properly discussed. The city welcomes open mindedness and is famous for its inclusivity. Let’s have a look at some of the Cannabis center events that take place in NYC.

NYC Cannabis Parade 

One of the longest running parades celebrating the wonder of Cannabis, New York’s Cannabis parade is a staple of the cities open mindedness. The parade was started in the 60’s after a series of cultural events lead to regular ‘smoke ins’: Allen Ginsberg founded LeMAr (Legalize Marijuana), hippie culture was blooming in the East Village and people started to protest against the criminalization of Cannabis. From then on, people have regularly met and marched through the center of New York City. As they say on their website, the history of this parade shows that the new legalization of Cannabis ‘did not come as a gift from the top down – it came up from the people through struggle.’

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Cannabis Speakeasy events

There are lots of Speakeasy dinners and nights in and around NYC. Spleef is an events company that hosts spoken word events and stand up nights that are centred around promoting artists as well as enjoying infused edibles. 20 past 4 is an infused dining experience where diners are served infused meals that match the strain of Cannabis they are given to smoke before that course. There are many events like this around the city and these Cannabis infused dinner parties will continue to grow as clarity around the rules of selling Cannabis grows too.

New York Cannabis Film Festival 

Another important event in the Cannabis Culture Calendar of New York is the Cannabis Film Festival. A festival of feature films and shorts that celebrate Cannabis Culture and promote Cannabis friendly creatives all with the aim of breaking down the stigmas around the drug.

For a list of Cannabis based events and workshops, including the business of Cannabis in NYC, have a look at this link.


New York is one of the most lively, bustling and iconic cities in the world. You can be anyone you want and dream any dream. With the change in laws of legalisation it’s now possible to use Cannabis with freedom and ease and soon it will even be possible to legally purchase Cannabis from dispensaries and even visit Cannabis cafes. Cannabis culture was always present in New York, but the future is bright and the Big Apple keeps on getting shinier.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.