When Weed Becomes “The Man”

The headshop next door is neither cool nor subversive

Paul Greenberg

--

My local café, now a nameless pot place (photo by Paul Greenberg)

Last month my local cafe became a weed shop. True, COVID had shuttered teeny, tiny Casa Toscana on John Street in Lower Manhattan and the place had stood as a sadly empty storefront for over a year — a gnawing reminder that New York may never be “back.” But as I strolled down Broadway, smelling the sweet-rot-skunk of cannabis blowing from my old café, as I caught another plume wafting from the popup weed shop on the corner outside the subway station, as I watched three twenty-somethings light up and gaze nonfixedly into a concrete horizon, I suddenly had a vision of what a fully legalized pot scene in New York will look like.

Soon, just as the Spirit Halloween franchise comes to occupy every non-returned big business, Big Pot will come to possess every failed small one. The increasingly predictable sentence structure of the 2022 New York street will have one more repetitive noun cluster:

bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store; bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store; bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store; bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store; bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store; bank, nail salon, pharmacy, pot store

Gone is the Korean deli. Vanished is the Dominican bodega that Lin Manuel Miranda so celebrated. Absent is the neighborly bric-a-brac store you couldn’t quite put your finger on but which made you feel that your neighborhood was a neighborhood. Given a choice (and America is all about choice, right?) Americans will choose to get high over most other things. What small business can compete with that urgent need?

Now, I realize at this juncture in a short essay I am now in the eyes of most younger readers coming off as a fuddy-duddy. Even the very old word, “fuddy-duddy” reads as out-of-date. But before the youth abandon this little jab at the coming weedistan, let’s take a step back and think, what does a regularly stoned young electorate do with their new found freedom?

Not much, it turns out. Street protest around any number of issues ranging from fair housing to police discrimination to climate change has petered out since weed came to rule New York. No mass Black Lives Matters protest, no Occupy Wall Street has taken the streets since recreational…

--

--

Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org