Grim Reefer

East Side, West Side, all around the town: the weed shops of New York.
Out with the old addiction, in with the new…

New York City, where former Mayor Michael Bloomberg led efforts in the 2000s to pass some of the nation’s strictest clean indoor air laws, highest cigarette taxes, and most stringent limitations on retail signage for tobacco products, has been transformed into a marijuana paradise. The corner candy stores and newsstands of my youth have been replaced by weed shops. Marijuana dispensaries appear to account for much of the increase in storefront occupancy rates that had plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. One or more of these gaudily-lit shops could be found on virtually every block of 8th and 9th Avenues in Midtown Manhattan, as well as all the other neighborhoods I strolled through during a week-long visit in December 2022, including Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The above exhibition gallery is made up of cellphone photos of weed shops in these areas. Nor can one walk 50 feet without smelling the acrid stench of marijuana, making the outside as bad as the old inside used to be. And there’s more: cigarette smoking may have been banned on subway cars in the 1970s and on subway platforms in the 1990s, but smoking a joint or using an e-cannabis vape pen is everywhere underground.

This same turn-of-events is occurring in other cities in states that have legalized the sale and promotion of marijuana. Since a public referendum in 1988 to dedicate a portion of cigarette taxes to anti-smoking activities, California has had one of the largest per capita anti-tobacco budgets in the world. In San Francisco tobacco control advocates have all but cleansed the air of tobacco smoke and have succeeded in banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, only to see the proliferation of cannabis “dispensaries” and malodorous air. At a lunch during the the National Conference on Tobacco or Health in Minneapolis in August 2019, which heavily focused on the alleged dangers of electronic cigarettes and the targeting of e-cigarette advertising to children and teenagers, a strategist in the effort to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in San Francisco claimed that e-cigarettes posed a greater threat to teenagers than cigarettes. Yet in the midst of this crusade, little concern was expressed by the strategist or conference attendees about San Francisco’s rolling out the red carpet for marijuana.

The reason that it is politically incorrect to question the proliferation of cannabis stores is because of the decades of unjust incarceration of tens of thousands of Black men for possession of marijuana. As a result, states are jumping on the bandwagon to cash in on marijuana and making a show of preferentially offering dispensing licenses to formerly imprisoned marijuana users. In addition, those who now work in the professionalized field of tobacco control policy have become so entrenched in their public health silo that they have been oblivious to the emergence of threats such as marijuana.  Only in 2023 has the Food and Drug Administration announced that it may finally study take a look at this growing problem.

Alan Blum, MD
Director, The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society

“What Are They Smoking? NYC nonprofits will sell weed–while they treat drug addicts” (2 pages)

Front-page article by Melissa Klein and May Kay Linge
The New York Post
December 4, 2022

Three nonprofit organizations in New York City that either provide substance abuse treatment and recovery services or mandate sobriety have sought and won licenses to sell recreational marijuana.

“It’s just mind-blowing,” said Assemblyman Michael Reilly (Republican–Staten Island)…”These organizations have committed to the community that they would help prevent addiction and help people heal. But here they are, getting a license to sell recreational marijuana, which alters your mind and essentially takes away your sobriety.”

Kevin Sabet, president of the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (, which opposes the drug’s legalization and commercialization, observed, Selling today’s highly potent marijuana and providing the use of these intoxicants–which is very different from Woodstock weed in its strength–to me is very contradictory to the missions of these good organizations…Now they’re going to be tainted by essentially becoming legal drug dealers.”

Marijuana is expected to to generate more than $1.25 billion in revenue for the state over the next six years.

“How Legalizing Pot in New York Became a Farce”

Column by Jason L. Riley
The Wall Street Journal
February 23, 2023

“New State Laws May Make 2023 a Year of Unintended Consequences”

Column by Jason L. Riley
The Wall Street Journal
January 3, 2023

“A New Panic Over Marijuana”

Column by Gina Bellafonte
The New York Times
February 24, 2023

“Legal Weed Feeds the Teen Mental-Health Crisis”

Op-ed column by Erica Komisar, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
The Wall Street Journal
March 1, 2023

“WARNING: Doctors Warn Cannabis Can Cause Serious Health Problems”

Half-page paid advertisement by the International Academy on the Science of the Impact of Cannabis (IASIC
The Wall Street Journal
January 2023

“Doctors Warn Cannabis Can Cause Serious Health Problems”

Half-page advertisement by the International Academy on the Science of the Impact of Cannabis (IASIC
The Wall Street Journal
November 12, 2021

“The New Golden Leaf? Tobacco’s foray into cannabis”

Cover story by Shane MacGuill
Tobacco Reporter (tobacco industry monthly)
February 2019

“Green expectations: Tobacco companies are taking notice of and publicly participating in the rapid growth of the legal marijuana market” (3 pages)

Article by Timothy S. Donohue
Tobacco Reporter
February 2019

“Pot of Gold: The legalization of marijuana may be a transformational development for the tobacco industry” (3 pages)

Cover story by Shane MacGuill
Tobacco Reporter
February 2019

“High on Candy: Cannabis edible attract more teens, alarming schools”

Article by Andrea Peterson
The Wall Street Journal
March 8, 2022

“30.5%: The percentage of 12th graders who said they used marijuana in the past year”

According to Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2022, published by the University of Michigan in 2023, 4% of 12th graders used cigarettes in the past month. On 1997, high school student cigarette smoking prevalence was 36.4%.

“Pot industry wary of Big Tobacco: Cigarette makers will use their influence to take over, it says”

Article by Trevor Hughes
USA Today
April 14, 2015

“…With their deep pockets, long-standing experience, and relationships with generations of farmers” the tobacco industry was said to pose a threat to the survival of legal marijuana grower and sellers, the vast majority of which are small business-owners.

According to tobacco industry documents researcher Rachel Ann Barry and colleagues in the June 2014 issue of Milbank Quarterly (“Waiting for the opportune moment: the tobacco industry and marijuana legalization”), the tobacco industry has long plotted to enter the cannabis market.

Kevin Sabet of the anti-pot legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana predicts a repeat of the nightmare of cigarette marketing to kids.

“How New York City Became a Free-for-All of Unlicensed Weed”

Continuation of article by Ashley Southal, city cannabis correspondent
The New York Times
November 23, 2022

“Keeping His Weed Happy”

Graphic story by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg
The New York Times
August 28, 2022

“Cannabis is teens’ ‘drug of choiced’ in bipolar disorder”

Article by Elizabeth Mechdatie
Family Practice News
March 1, 2015

“Bipolar disorder has the highest rate of substance abuse comorbidity of any neuropsychiatric disorder, and cannabis is considered the ‘drug of choice’ in people with bipolar disorder, but there is a paucity of research systematically examining the association…The available data indicate that cannabis use appears to elevate the risk of developing mania in people diagnosed with or who are at risk of bipolar disorder.”

“Before the federal pot policy…and after”

Editorial cartoon by Roy Peterson [1936-2013]
Vancouver Sun
June 7, 2003

“Glamorous, rebellious, cultural outlaw, dedicated to overturning cannabis laws and societal concepts…
“Another bozo drug bore, polluting the atmosphere with a personal addictive weakness.”

“The everything guide to weed in NYC: what marijuana legalization actually means
Recreational weed use is now legal in New York and here is everything you need to know about it.”

Cover story by Anna Rahmanan and Shaye Weaver
Time-Out New York
December 20, 2022


Monograph by CIBA Pharmaceutical Products, Incorporated
Ciba Symposia
August-September 1946

Cannabis dispensary brochures in Western Massachusetts


Grim Reefer


Curated by Alan Blum, MD

Professor and Endowed Chair in Family Medicine
Director, Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society
College of Community Health Sciences
The University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa

Designed by Bryce Callahan

Undergraduate student majoring in computer engineering
The University of Alabama

© Copyright - The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society