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Things Are Canna Crazy in New York City These Days

Published on May 21, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Police investigate a store near the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Broadway Wednesday, July 13, 2016, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. More than two dozen people were sickened in an apparent mass drug overdose on a New York City street corner, sparking warnings from police and health officials about the dangers of using K2, also known as synthetic marijuana. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

Two headlines out of New York City grabbed our attention here at Leafly World Headquarters this morning:

Too bad Bill de Blasio didn’t give that order to the NYPD a week ago. Or a month ago. Or a year ago. Those 25 people in Brooklyn could have avoided the hospital altogether.

When legal, high-quality, lab-tested cannabis is unavailable, some people will turn to K2, Spice, and other toxins. It's a cruel con job.

Better late than never, though, eh Mayor? Maybe you’ll want to drop by Woodhull Hospital with flowers and an apology note this afternoon.

Forgive my bitter tone. It comes from watching the same story play out year after year in prohibition states. Here’s a story about a naked guy freaking out on K2 in New York City three years ago. Here are dozens of Brooklynites dropping like zombies in 2016. Here are Spice users vomiting blood last month in Chicago. Here are four deaths tied to Spice tainted with rat poison in downstate Illinois three weeks ago.

When legal, high-quality, lab-tested cannabis is unavailable, some people will turn to K2, Spice, and other chemically toxic substances, deceived by the false “synthetic marijuana” label. It’s a cruel con job. Calling this garbage marijuana is like describing fentanyl as extra-strength aspirin. Once again for the people in the balcony: K2 AND SPICE ARE NOT CANNABIS.

The con is aided and abetted by public officials like de Blasio and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As long as their police departments continue to use real cannabis to suck people into the prison pipeline, some of those otherwise law-abiding citizens are going to try their luck with poison in a Spice package.

Prohibition Redux

We saw the same thing happen with alcohol 90 years ago. Back then, Prohibition forced those in need of a drink to take their life in their hands. Here’s a headline from the New York World on Jan. 1, 1927:

  • Four New Rum Deaths; 20 More to Bellevue Hospital; 760 Die Here In Year

In his definitive history Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent recounted how low-grade bootleggers would extend their stock with wood alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, which can cause blindness, paralysis, and death. A single batch of “Jamaican Ginger” crippled 500 people in Wichita, Kansas, when the distiller added a neurotoxin that attacked the nerves in the hands and feet. He didn’t know any better; he thought it was just more alcohol.

The reaction of “the drys” in the 1920s was as cruel and pitiless as politicians who ignore Spice victims and incarcerated cannabis consumers today: They got what was coming to ‘em.

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Too Bad, So Sad

Meanwhile, back at the station house, members of the New York Police Department are whining over their inability to harass and imprison cannabis consumers. This obnoxious tweet flashed across cannabis culture over the weekend:

That’s not just one rogue cop. That was tweeted out by the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the official account of an organization representing 13,000 active and retired NYPD sergeants.

Why can't the cops just tell a smoker to douse the joint and move on?

So the poor guy in the photos—let’s call him Beardy Pete—maybe he’s had a rough day. Maybe his lover just dumped him. At the very least he’s just emerged from the Sbarro hellscape that is Penn Station. Is it obnoxious to camp on the steps and spark a J? Yeah, a little. But more for the step-camping than the smoking. Here’s a thought, 20-year veteran cop. Instead of arresting Beardy Pete, how about shuffling over and requesting that he extinguish the combustible: “Hey, buddy, it’s a public walkway here. How about dousing the joint and letting the people move.” Simple. Elegant. To the point.

And yeah, 20-year cop, the NYPD will no longer back you when you choose to harass New Yorkers who are committing a crime no worse than jaywalking. Or at least Mayor de Blasio won’t. Millions of us are glad you walked away. Maybe you should have walked over to Brooklyn and investigated the Spice that put 25 people in the hospital.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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