PSA: New York bans smoking in public parks and beaches

Published on August 2, 2022 · Last updated August 11, 2022
people on blankets in park
Sorry New York, the days of legally smoking in parks have come to an end. (Meg Schmidt for Leafly)

Looking to smoke up at your favorite New York park or beach? Sorry, friend, those days are over.

In July, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) signed a new law that prohibits the smoking of cannabis and tobacco at nearly all state-owned “beaches, boardwalks, marinas, playgrounds, recreation centers, and group camps.”

The cost of getting busted? A civil fine of $50.

Last year, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) into law. In a first for the US, the framework bill effectively legalized public consumption statewide. The new ban, however, takes the wind out of the sails of locals and tourists alike who have been stoked to take advantage of the lax policy.

“New Yorkers are confused and angry as many believed that once MRTA passed, they would be free to consume outside without any issues,” Grizzly Bocourt, the Executive Director of Cannaware and the founder of New York Cannabis United, told Leafly.

“I believe this debate won’t be settled until more is done to educate consumers on where smoking is prohibited and is permitted, [in order to] protect New Yorkers who don’t have access to private spaces,” Bocourt added.

New York City is the world capital of weed smoking, pound-for-pound, but smoking in the Big Apple’s public parks and beaches has been forbidden since 2011. Many have ignored that rule, but now the entire state is subject to being ticketed for toking in the wrong place.

Why does NY gotta harsh my mellow?

photograph of New York Governor Kathy Hochul holding a microphone
NY Gov. Kathy Hochul doesn’t want New Yorkers to smoke in public parks anymore. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In a press release announcing the ban, Governor Hochul does not mention cannabis a single time. Instead, she emphasizes the health risks of secondhand smoke and the environmental impact of cigarette butts.

“Smoking is a dangerous habit that affects not only the smoker but everyone around them, including families and children enjoying our state’s great public places,” Governor Hochul says in the statement. “I’m proud to sign this legislation that will protect New Yorker’s health and help reduce litter in public parks and beaches across the state.”

The release points out that “cigarette butts are a major environmental hazard due to the non-biodegradable filters that are discarded.” It notes that they are the “leading item” found during cleanup projects.

It additionally notes that many municipalities already have a similar ban in effect: The new law streamlines that policy statewide.

The bill does include a few exceptions, however: The Adirondacks and Catskills regions remain kosher for public consumption, as well as “parking lots, sidewalks adjoining parks, and areas not used for park purposes.”

Come 2023, I guess, events like this year’s epic 4/20 smokeout in Washington Square Park (which Leafly’s own Mikhail Harrison documented this year) will have to take place on the sidewalks around the park.

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Sounds… A little less epic.

Views from NYC’s 420 weekend melting pot
NYC Mayor Adams (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)
“Enjoy yourself, light up, but most importantly, spend some money,” said Mayor Adams at a cannabis conference earlier this year. The Mayor claims he will be lax on cannabis regulation, for now, but officials from the New York Senate and the Office of Cannabis Management have been more aggressive. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)

The park and beach ban marks another twist in New York’s dramatic road to legal cannabis. 

Most recently, the state’s Office of Cannabis Management sparked confusion and anger this summer when it sent cease-and-desist letters to dozens of the state’s gray-area stores. NYC Mayor Eric Adams (D) further complicated the matter when he told residents to not sweat it.

And although many advocates have applauded the state’s plan to allocate $200 million to help marginalized entrepreneurs with the real estate costs of launching legal pot shops, others wish the money was used differently.

On a final note: While the new ban certainly puts a wrench in consumers’ dreams of enjoying cannabis all across the state, New York’s policy still remains one of the country’s chillest. 

The state’s first legal stores are expected to open later this year. Hopefully public consumption lounges won’t be far behind. 

In the meantime, New York residents and visitors, enjoy hitting your blunt on the sidewalk next to your favorite park. 

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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