WNYU: The new marijuana marketplace

Photo by Matthew Bisanz

Photo by Matthew Bisanz

By Vinith Yedidi and Luke Sherrill

Editor’s Note: This article is a full transcript of the segment from The Rundown, which has been lightly edited for format and consistency. Thank you to WNYU for the collaboration!

In Washington Square Park, the smell of weed is pretty ubiquitous — there are people selling and smoking it freely. This is pretty recent though, as some of us who’ve been in New York for a while remember. So what’s with all the weed all of a sudden? WNYU reporters Vinith Yedidi and Luke Sherrill have the story.

YEDIDI: As you walk through Washington Square Park, you start to notice stands selling weed. There are little stands that sell jewelry and artwork, but also have a jar of pre-rolled joints, and there are big stands, with huge catalogs of every kind of weed imaginable. Sometimes you’ll even hear people hawking their products, trying to catch people walking by to try and sell them some weed.

SHERRILL: Some of you may have even gone up to some of them, trying to see what they have. Here at WNYU, we were interested in these businesses and how they operate, so we went up to some of them and interviewed them. The Weed Dealers wished to remain anonymous and didn’t want to be recorded, so we’ll just share what we heard them say.

YEDIDI: So the first question we asked was about how much of their customer base was made up of NYU students. Could that be the reason why they set up in Washington Square?

SHERRILL: Some of the vendors seemed reluctant to give us an answer on this one. Seller “A” told us right off the bat that it’s “at least 80%.” They also said that “it’s extremely easy to tell who’s NYU based on their look and the way they carry themselves.” However, Sellers “B” and “C” told us that they try to “keep conversations to a minimum,” which makes sense. NYU might be a target of sales, but according to Seller “C,” their “business model is oriented around being a safe space so discretion is number 1,” and wished to not further comment about her client base.

YEDIDI: Then, we asked how profitable their business is.

SHERRILL: Seller “B” told us that the weed business “has been a blessing.” Seller “C” went into specifics, telling us that “if you put your mind to it, six figures in this business is pretty obtainable.”

YEDIDI: We should probably talk about legalization at this point. As you may have heard, in New York City, public smoking is now decriminalized, and so long as you’re not violating any clean air zones, cops are instructed not to stop you from smoking. Sale is still technically illegal because the state hasn’t announced when they’ll issue dispensary permits, but it’s still unclear how concerned the NYPD is with enforcing this, as the park does seem to be somewhat like a marijuana marketplace. We decided to get the vendors’ opinions on the matter. 

SHERRILL: When asked if they’ve ever had any problems with the cops, we got conflicting responses. Seller “B” said they never had any issues, and Seller “A” said that since they primarily sell jewelry and only sell weed on the side, the cops don’t bother them. It should be noted, though, that before we asked Seller “B,” we did see a cop talking to them, though they refused to acknowledge this.

YEDIDI: Proponents of legalization cite that it would actually remove criminal weed sales since people have a legally sanctioned place to buy weed. We asked the weed sellers how legalization might affect their business.

SHERRILL: Seller “A” hadn’t thought about it that much — perhaps they were just in for the profit while they could still get it. Seller “B” told us that they have a clothing business that could support them if legalization hurts their weed sales. However, Seller “C” told us that they were actually acquiring permits and trying to be considered a legal dispensary, so legalization would end up legitimizing their business.

YEDIDI: Seller “C” also shed some light on why weed sellers have set up shop in the park all of a sudden.

SHERRILL: “Weed stands in Washington Square Park are pretty new, and it’s a product of the post-COVID New York City. Before, my business and a lot of my competitors were mainly delivering weed, especially during the pandemic.”

YEDIDI: They also told us a little bit about their business story.

SHERRILL: “As a consumer of weed I felt that buying weed as a female was always sketchy business. There have been a lot of times, as a female, that I’ve felt unsafe picking up weed from male dealers. I think having a female-run business, in a very male-dominated industry is something a lot of my customers resonate with. We’ve gone viral having multiple licenses and even a delivery app. The goal of my business is to have all my customers feel safe when picking up from us.”

YEDIDI: So maybe it’s a combination of a ripe NYU clientele, high profit, safety from the cops, and the prospect of legalization all coming together to make Washington Square Park a weed bazaar. Some of the weed sellers seem to have goals for their businesses too, trying to legitimize weed as a product and remove the crime from it. Whatever the case, it seems that weed is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

SHERRILL: I’m Luke Sherill reporting with Vinith Yedidi. This is WNYU, 89.1 FM.