“Joints For Jabs” on Union Square

Eager for a blunt, New Yorkers flocked to a table managed by an enthusiastic old man in a green marijuana-leaf suit at Union Square on Tuesday. With seventeen minutes left before his self-imposed closing time of 4:20 p.m., some 2,500 people were still in line to get legally high on weed.

Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed two reasons to get vaccinated: to protect yourself and your family from COVID, and the opportunity to enjoy a free “heavenly” Krispy Kreme donut.

But 4/20—or April 20, the day cannabis enthusiasts celebrate the drug—gave another reason to get vaccinated: free pot, for everyone with a vaccination card. It was “Joints for Jabs,” as the organizers called the offering.

On March 31, New York  became the fourteenth state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational adult use, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that legalizes the possession of less than three ounces of it and expanded the state’s already existing medical cannabis program. It will be some time before regulations are in place and any stores or dispensaries are set up to sell cannabis, according to a briefing last week by Beth Garvey, appointed Acting Counsel to the governor. People who want to purchase marijuana for medical and recreational use will have to get it from border states, officials said, until New York state can offer it in the next 18 months.

Todd Hinden passes out rolls of weed (Photo by Christopher Alvarez)

The April 20 celebration has a history of more than two decades all over the world, though Joints for Jabs is a new twist. Todd Hinden, a cannabis salesperson, and Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DC Marijuana Justice, said they decided to bring their  activism to the Big Apple after 20 years of organizing 4/20 cannabis parties in Washington D.C. to lobby for legalization. Then, New York passed its legalization law last month, said Schiller, and, “In order to encourage more people to get vaccinated we came up with Joints for Jabs.” 

The organizers contend  that their marijuana is completely safe and doesn’t cause any complications with the vaccine. In fact, they say, if someone has a sore arm, cannabis will relax the muscles.  The joints being offered, they said, was a mild version of cannabis, with a limited amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

“I used to get high here in high school, said Kilean Rogers, a smoker celebrating 4/20. “It’s pretty surreal, not having to have constant anxiety about something that shouldn’t have been illegal in the first place.” 

Nadine Lafebre, who said she recently received the Moderna shot, is a single mother from the Bronx who waited in line for two hours with her baby daughter. “I’m excited, it’s legal, it’s free, we’re all vaccinated,” Lafebre said. “Weed is not a drug, it’s not harmful. But I don’t smoke it around her,” she added, looking at her child. 

Ryan Lepore, Intern Executive Director for NYC NORML, a cannabis advocacy group, said he never imagined being in Union Square legally smoking weed. “The people need this, the city needs this,” Lepore said “It’s not like we’re getting into fights, and Union Square is burning down.”