New York City has it all: some of the world’s finest museums, nearly every cuisine imaginable, and a legally dubious weed shop on every single corner called “ZazaVille” with a stoned gorilla on the sign. Decriminalization in NYC has led to a massive proliferation of these gray area storefronts, but over the last few months, NYC has also become home to three official recreational cannabis proprietors: Housing Works, Smacked Village, and Union Square Travel Agency, all of which are located in Manhattan.
Photographer Rengim Mutevellioglu has been documenting this complicated space and the people within it. Capturing both the licensed retailers and the “legacy” sellers, as formerly illegal weed dealers are called, her work showcases the sense of excitement for the moment and the bureaucratic complexities shaping it. “I’ve seen a lot of attempts by the legal sphere to attempt to integrate the legacy sphere into the fold,” says Mutevellioglu. “I think that most of the legacy field doesn’t seem to be in a rush to be legalized and are enjoying the decriminalization for now.”
Despite some major differences between the legal and legacy sides of the business—namely, legislative red tape—Mutevellioglu says there’s a shared level of professionalism. “Possibly the only big difference I’ve seen,” she says, “is how both industries talk about the medical benefits of cannabis. The legal sphere feels more clear-cut scientific, whereas the legacy has a more spiritual and Indigenous-forward side to it.”
But across the board, she says, there is a palpable energy of celebration. “During the Housing Works opening, more than one person mentioned the term ‘prohibition’—the end of prohibition specifically—and that, along with the festive atmosphere of the opening, really made me realize what a pivotal moment of change we’re in,” says Mutevellioglu. “A lot of people in line at the opening were really there just to be part of history in a very cognizant way.”
See Mutevellioglu’s photos of New York City’s contemporary cannabis scene below.