This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
For better or worse, Toronto is often described as a poor man's New York. We have some stuff, they just have more, and better stuff.
As a cannabis reporter, I wanted to know if that applied to weed, so I decided to get a better sense of New York’s weed scene on a recent trip there. In a nutshell, my impression is it’s a bit basic, when compared to both Toronto and my hometown of Vancouver (the home of the world-renowned BC Bud and one of the largest 420 celebrations in the world). It’s especially surprising when you consider that New Yorkers apparently consume more cannabis than any other city in the world.
I'm not one to pass up on an opportunity to troll one of the greatest cities in the world, so here is a list of everything wrong with New York weed.
Watch: Toronto's Cannabis Candyland
Dearth of dispensaries
For a regular pot consumer, dispensaries are life changing. And, even though weed is not yet legal in Canada, we have a lot of them here—hundreds in between Ontario and BC alone, plus plenty online who do mail delivery. In Toronto, it seems there’s a dispensary on every other street corner. The one I currently use sells weed to anyone aged 19 and older and gives out neighborhood discounts. Having a dispensary just makes things a lot more convenient—you get a decent selection of weed; it’s always stocked; you can go in whenever you want; you don’t have to arrange a pick-up location or time; you don’t have to make small talk; I could go on. But New York doesn’t have any—at least none that are recreational. Yeah, I get that it’s not legal there, but it’s not legal here either and there’s still a massive underground market. “So, people have to use dealers?” I asked my friend who lives in Williamsburg, a note of incredulity in my tone. Sorry, but using a street dealer for weed in 2018 if you live in a major city seems kind of primitive.
Several people I spoke to use delivery services that essentially act as an Uber for weed. While it sounds pretty decent, I had a bit of sticker shock when I found out the prices people were paying. One friend said the first eighth costs $60 and $40 for every eighth after that. Another, who grew up with me in Vancouver and moved to New York a few years ago, said she pays $50 to $65 for an eighth. For comparison, an eighth costs about $25 in Canada—and that’s Canadian dollars. So basically you’re paying triple the price in New York. That’s pretty much on par with the cost for a gram of cocaine in Toronto. With the amount I blaze, I would probably have to start growing my own plants to avoid paying those prices.
“In New York, people are not knowledgeable,” said Shanelly Peña, who along with her sister, Roshelly, runs Higher Dining, a weed pop-up dinner business in the Bronx. “There’s still just three strains unless you know a good dealer.” The sisters currently have dealers who sell them product from Colorado and Los Angeles; they say they’re trying to increase their customers’ awareness around different strains and their effects. At their dinners, for which they charge around $150 per person for a delicious five-course cannabis-infused meal, they encourage people to blaze. I chatted with their supplier, a woman in her 20s who goes by the name Queen C (“c” as in “cannabis”), about the variety in New York and how it’s changed over the years. Before, she said, “you settled for what you got. This is New York, it’s not California.” Basically, everyone smoked one strain—sour diesel, she said. She also noted that many people in the game were “suss.” However, she told me things are evolving, with Colorado and California going recreational. Now, as long as you have a decent connect, there are edibles, concentrates, oils, and pens. I smoked a joint with Queen C after our interview, and while I did get high, I was still functional enough to go have dinner with my mom right after. When I was smoking BC Bud as a teenager, I would get so stoned that I wouldn’t be able to even order from McDonald’s. I had to quit for several years because I would get too high and paranoid and basically go nonverbal. So there is something to be said for weed that isn’t too strong.
Strict AF medical program
New York’s medical weed program is strict. In order to qualify for a medical weed card, you need to have a “serious condition” like cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, severe or chronic pain, Huntington’s disease, certain spinal cord injuries, inflammatory bowel disease, or seizures. Note that anxiety and insomnia—two of the most common conditions treated with weed—aren’t on the list. Even if you qualify though, the medical program has banned flower meaning you can’t smoke weed. The only forms of weed that are allowed are capsules, liquids, and oils. Edibles are also not allowed. You’re also not allowed to grow your own weed. In Canada, the medical weed program is federal, and you are allowed to grow your own weed or designate a grower. You can also consume edibles, though you would have to make your own. You can definitely purchase flower. Patients should be given access to different forms of weed, especially edibles because they’re often a healthier way to consume cannabis. Plus, there is something about banning bud that gives New York’s medical program a gross corporate pharma vibe IMO. Currently, there are only three medical dispensaries open in Manhattan, a borough that has 1.6 million people.
While this is by no means a problem specific to New York, racist weed arrests have persisted; 86 percent of people busted for the 17,500 pot possession arrests in 2017 were black or Latino. The number of arrests for possessions is down from previous years, but 17,500 is still a shit load of people, especially when you consider how stupid weed prohibition is in the first place. This is a problem in Canada too, though on a lesser scale.
Anyway, New York still obviously has a lot going for it, so it can probably stand to get knocked down a peg.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.