Smokers Get Bolder in a New Era for Marijuana

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  Smokers Get Bolder in a New Era for Marijuana

Posted by CN Staff on December 15, 2015 at 05:54:41 PT
By Sarah Maslin Nir  
Source: New York Times 

New York -- It wafts down the pavement, an unmistakable odor more Haight-Ashbury than New York — the tang of marijuana smoke in the city’s streets. If the smell (and the lightheadedness a passer-by may feel) is anything to judge by, lighting up and strolling around seems increasingly common in pockets of Brooklyn, on side streets in Manhattan and in other public spaces.Street smokers say they are emboldened by laws that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in other parts of the country and by the relatively low-key comments by New York’s leaders, including the police commissioner, about the drug.
Interviews with people who said they had smoked marijuana in public yielded a general sentiment that they felt much more secure doing so today than they would have not long ago.Still, in New York, smoking marijuana in public remains an arresting offense, though the policy for possessing, but not lighting, a small amount of marijuana has changed with officers issuing summonses instead of making arrests. Some people say the scent is merely another whiff of gentrification as outsiders from places with less prudish approaches to marijuana colonize hip neighborhoods and import their own social mores.As he walked with his cousin past Gramercy Park in Manhattan on a recent afternoon, John Jay, 25, inhaled deeply from a rolled paper joint and explained how attitudes had shifted. “Even in high school, you would kind of look left and right — ‘Are you good to roll?’ ” he said. “ ‘Are you O.K. to spark?’ We’d find a spot to hide.”Now, Mr. Jay, who works in catering, said he smoked in public with a sense of impunity. “Here in New York City, because we know it’s legal in other states, we kind of have that feeling the legalization of marijuana is spreading across the nation, and it’s going to come regardless,” he said.Recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State and Washington, D.C. In New York State, the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions was made legal last year, though dispensaries have not yet opened. In New York City last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced that the police would no longer arrest people possessing 25 grams of marijuana or less and would use their discretion in issuing a ticket for the offense.During a news conference in October, Mr. Bratton spoke about how he had run into a young woman smoking marijuana in the financial district while on his way to a morning appointment and had let her off with a warning. “All of a sudden, there it is, that smell,” he told reporters. “What the hell — 8:30 on Wall Street?”Despite anecdotal evidence, and a telltale odor in the air, quantifying whether street smoking is more prevalent than before is challenging. Arrests for smoking marijuana are included as part of the Police Department’s database of arrests for possessing the drug and are not a separate category.Arrests have fallen in the past year. More than 26,000 people were arrested in 2014 for criminal possession of marijuana in the fifth degree, which included openly burning a joint and possessing more than 25 grams, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Through September of this year, about 12,500 had been arrested, according to the division’s data. A decision to end the stop-and-frisk policing policy last year may also have contributed to the drop. By comparison, summonses for possession have risen, with the total for this year already surpassing the total for all of last year.On message boards and blogs, people note that the scent can peak in parts of Brooklyn as the morning commute gears up, with smokers taking drags between sips of coffee. In the spring, Fox News broadcast a report noting the stench on the jogging paths of Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, right next to Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence. Outside Eataly, the sprawling Italian marketplace in the Flatiron district, the smell from a joint on a recent weekday battled the aroma of espresso beans.While some New Yorkers’ behavior may have changed, the consequences for possessing a lit joint are still the same — it is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine and up to 90 days in jail.But New Yorkers say it is undeniably in the air.“Long time ago they used to hide and do it, and now they are doing it out in the open,” Tanya Polite, 49, said as she delivered sandwiches to preschoolers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I smell it a lot. I smell it and go, ‘Pee-ew!’ The smell is so powerful, when you inhale it you get like a contact — a dizzy spell.”To Ms. Polite and others, open-air marijuana smokers do so to thumb their noses at the police. Others, like Anne Collins, who has lived in Williamsburg for many years, say it is a symptom of an influx of outsiders who bring their values with their suitcases.“It’s not that it’s New York is a pothead county, or city, it’s you’ve got all these people coming from other places,” Ms. Collins, 53, said. “French, German, Chinese, they are all here. Not to mention all of the Californian yuppies. They carry on their lives as they did where they were.”Whether a person believes smoking marijuana in public is permissible in New York City can vary depending upon a person’s race, said Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College and a researcher with the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which studies trends in the enforcement of marijuana laws.Through September of this year, 11,099, or nearly 89 percent of those arrested on charges of possessing marijuana in the fifth degree were black or Hispanic, according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services. For the same period, 997 white people were arrested, about 8 percent of the total.“Somebody who grew up and has lived most of their life in a largely white area, is used to having the police ignore this behavior,” Professor Levine said. “Then they come to the big city, and it’s: ‘Woo woo woo! It must be more liberal here!’ ”That seemed to be the attitude of a businessman visiting from Florida, as he puffed a marijuana cigarette on a recent afternoon outside a restaurant in the East Village.“I would have still done this back in the day,” said the man, who was in town for a concert featuring the Grateful Dead, and who declined to give his name because what he was doing was illegal. “But in secret.”Follow The New York Times’s Metro coverage on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the New York Today newsletter.A version of this article appears in print on December 15, 2015, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Smokers Get Bolder in a New Era for MarijuanaSource: New York Times (NY)Author: Sarah Maslin Nir Published: December 15, 2015Copyright: 2015 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives

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Comment #4 posted by Vincent on December 15, 2015 at 19:21:15 PT:
REAL History
Mr. Adams, I'm a long-time herb smoker (and DEALER!!!) who grew up in the Bronx. During the WONDERFUL 1970s, Marijuana was quasi-legal in New York, even before decriminalization in 1977. The elections of Ronald "I never smoked a joint in my life" Reagan, and his robot, Rudy "Marijuana is dangerous" Giuliani, caused some people to panic, but...NOT ME!!!!! I just kept on smoking pot all these years, the hell with what so-called "conservatives" think!
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Comment #3 posted by Sam Adams on December 15, 2015 at 15:47:57 PT
how quickly history is revised, or forgotten, by the NY Times.  I grew up near NYC and had many friends living there over the years.My friends said they grew up smoking herb wherever and whenever they wanted in NYC. It was virtually legal in the city for decades with almost no arrests or enforcement. Only when Giuliani took power in the early 90's did that change. I spent the weekend with a couple friends during that exact time.  They sparked up a joint on a bench in Central Park, which they had been doing for the last 10 years, in the early 90's. Cops came out of nowhere and insisted on arresting them. My friend Chris actually said to the cops - what is this? We always smoke here and you never cared before? The cop said "sorry….Giuliani"So, in reality, a 20-years period of cannabis hyper-enforcement is coming to an end in NYC. Remember, in the late 1800's NYC had 500 Turkish hash bars.  That's what the NY Times doesn't want you to think about! 
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Comment #1 posted by runruff on December 15, 2015 at 07:01:20 PT

Here at home...
We sell it, grow it, smoke it, eat it, rub it all over our bodies (not really) but it has quickly become an open part of our culture.I go to sport watching parties where everyone brings their best herb, eager to show it off and share it. Dabs, eatables, shatter and lots of infused candy, pot drinks and lots of Starbucks Coffee. I have seen a few people bring beer to these parties but not that much beer is consumed. I have never seen anyone in our crowd drunk but that may be just my crowd.We are a small town surrounded by a million acres of forest. I have been smelling this oder in the air for decades but it is more open now. At first, after legalization, some people called the cops on people smoking in public. The new cop response "we will have a deputy stop by for a statement as soon as one is available". Oops, this game is over folks and guess what? The good guys won.I work everyday, several hours, to make sure everyone has the same freedom we now enjoy. Like Mark Emery said, I want to overgrow the government!" Good job Mark, I for one, will always remember and appreciate your sacrifice. Time say to RIP to the DEA and their horrible war on good people. I wish the DEA had but one throat that we could throttle and be done with Nixon's evil legacy once and for good! 
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