Earlier this summer, the governor of New York signed the state’s first medical marijuana law, joining 23 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing some form of legal medical marijuana usage. New York’s law, expected to take effect in about a year and a half, is pretty limited, authorizing a total of only five manufacturers to open four dispensaries each, limiting sales to certain forms of the drug (no smoking), and only granting licenses to patients with serious ailments. What might broader legalization look like in the city?
In a kind of graphic thought experiment, the data visualization team at the ad agency R/GA took a look at where pot dispensaries could theoretically pop up in New York City. R/GA based the visualization on 1,000-foot buffer zone rules Seattle uses to keep weed shops from operating near schools and parks. (These zoning rules seem to be the current standard for locating dispensaries, as the DEA has threatened to shut down dispensaries that operate closer to schools.)
Those well-intentioned rules would make it difficult to sell legal marijuana almost anywhere in Manhattan, their map shows. (Except for a small stretch of Hell’s Kitchen, you can’t go 1,000 feet without happening upon a school or a park.) The regulations would also make it so that pot dispensaries would likely start up in former industrial zones, like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a former shipyard turned revitalized industrial park complete with its own whiskey distillery or Greenpoint, a former manufacturing and shipbuilding hub that now serves as a backdrop for twenty-something shenanigans on Girls. In either location dispensary owners would surely find an eager customer base of young hipsters, but they might not be the most central of locations for most people.
One insight that emerged from researching the graphic was that “these are not always the easiest of places to access,” especially in the context of using marijuana as medicine, says R/GA associate creative director Johnny Dwyer. “Am I going to go to the Navy Yard to get my medicine?” he wonders. New York’s new medical marijuana law prohibits all but the sickest patients from accessing marijuana, limiting prescriptions to patients with deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, and cancer. In “trying to keep them away from schools and parks, you get somewhat isolated territories,” he explains. “That’s not what the law has in mind.”
Retail sales are fully legal under state law in Colorado and Washington, and hell, even the stodgy New York Times editorial board favors legalization. While R/GA doesn’t want to take a stance on marijuana policy, managing director Marc Maleh says “one of the goals [of the data visualization] is to spark a conversation about what the legislation should be.”