It’s but a brisk four-minute walk from the Exotic Smoke Shop on Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue, over West 84th Street, to the deceptively labeled Holiday Candy Convenience store on Amsterdam Avenue.
Along the way are PS 9, a once-estimable elementary school, plus a Success Academy grammar school and four mini high schools, all shoehorned into the old Louis D. Brandeis HS building along the north side of 84th.
The two storefronts are among 1,500 or so unlicensed, unregulated and pretty much illegal weed shops now crowding the five boroughs.
Exotic seems mostly to be about smokeables, and Holiday touts gummy-bears — but THC is the main attraction.
Whether the school kids are being led astray by the shops is up in the air — dope isn’t hard to find anywhere — but they certainly are getting a life lesson when they walk past them.
Which is this: Obeying the law is a mug’s game in New York City these days.
Protecting criminals from consequences has a much higher priority than protecting kids from criminals.
Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg has noticed.
“Last year, illegal vendors did about $2 billion in sales statewide — better than Broadway shows,” Bloomberg wrote last week.
“It’s as easy to buy an ounce of pot as it is a slice of pizza.”
“Just think about the signal it sends to criminals that government is unwilling to crack down on so many storefronts selling drugs illegally — often to children,” he continued.
Bloomberg governed Gotham with some distinction for 12 years; he wasn’t considered a law-and-order mayor — largely because crime wasn’t much of an issue: He and then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly paid close attention to the little things, and the big things seemed to take care of themselves.
Not for nothing was Gotham called the safest big city in America.
Much has changed since then — most significantly, New York’s political culture. A preference for unfocused, ideological leadership has led to high tolerance for an increasingly disordered civic culture.
Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Whatever. But there is more going on than weed stores.
Just read the daily police blotter — and, while you’re at it, pity poor PS 9.
The city is about to open a shelter for addled, addicted and often criminally inclined vagrants on West 83rd Street — a scant 100 yards from the elementary school’s back door.
Why? Well, why not? Courting potential disaster is what government seems to do best these days.
But the weed shops, neon-gaudy and in-your-face open for business, are a pretty good avatar for New York’s slow-motion civic disintegration.
It’s hard to imagine Mayor Eric Adams’ recent predecessors — Bill de Blasio excepted — tolerating two outlaw weed stores bracketing six public schools on a single block anywhere in the city, let alone on the largely gentrified Upper West Side.
Not for a minute.
But it has fallen to Bloomberg, out of office for 10 years and hitherto silent on municipal affairs, to speak truth to New York’s now-permissive power structure.
New York legalized recreational pot two years ago “as a way to increase tax revenue, establish a safe marketplace, and reduce arrests and criminal penalties,” he wrote.
“But experience has shown that the only way to achieve the first two goals is to abandon the third, by cracking down on the illegal stores that undercut legal sellers. And the only way to achieve the third goal is to abandon the first two, by allowing shops to sell untaxed and unsafe products at a discount.”
Given that New York lawmakers seem thoroughly committed to keeping as many criminals on the streets as possible, Adams can accept the situation, weakly protest it — or raise bloody hell and keep it up until Albany and the City Council get serious about writing rules that privilege the law-abiding and put the lawbreakers in their place.
And if that’s Rikers Island, more’s the better.
So far, the mayor has chosen the middle way — on most days ignoring the shops and mildly blaming Albany when he notices them.
Bloomberg, of course, would have been more aggressive, and as for Rudy Giuliani — well, don’t ask.
There would be a cop in the doorway of every weed store in the city — and Albany would be under rhetorical siege until things were put right.
Which would be worth a try today.
How about it, Mr. Mayor?
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