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Times Square officials have installed a series of cheeky new signs reminding newly relaxed weed lovers that all smoking, including cannabis, is banned from the public plaza. 

In true New Yorker fashion, the campaign gets right to the point: “Let’s Be Blunt: No Smoking in the Plazas” read multiple signs posted around the Times Square pedestrian areas, where smoking of any kind is banned in accordance with the Smoke Free Air Act.

New signage around Times Square reminds pedestrians that cigarette and cannabis smoking is prohibited in New York’s public plazas. Photo: Naty Caez

The law, enacted in 2002 and updated in 2022 as a part of the city’s marijuana legalization, “prohibits smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes in most workplaces and public spaces. This applies to any substance, including cannabis, and includes areas near hospital entrances, in parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas” like Times Square. 

“The Times Square Alliance has increased signage throughout the pedestrian plazas to remind people of the many rules that apply to those spaces, including the fact that smoking of any kind is prohibited,” said TSQ Alliance VP of Communications TJ Witham. “We want all people to have a pleasant experience in our public spaces and got creative after receiving several complaints.”

Last September, eight blocks of Hell’s Kitchen became part of the Times Square “Gun Free Zone”, with NYPD putting up signs at the entrance to the 25-block area after New York City council banned firearms in the Crossroads of the World.

Traditional smoking ban signs have also been deployed in Times Square. Photo: Naty Caez

New York state legalized recreational marijuana use in March 2021, but made the rules on its public usage stricter than those for tobacco. According to the city’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), New Yorkers over 21 can legally toke up in private homes or anywhere else that “tobacco consumption is permitted”, but not in motor vehicles, private businesses, including restaurant patios and outdoor dining structures, public parks, beaches, or any other federal land including national forests and state parks. A $50 fixed-penalty fine can be issued for violating the law. 

A February 2019 study of cannabis-related arrests by the Data for Collaborative Justice Center at John Jay College, found that between 1990 and 2017 most were for possession and public smoking rather than the sale of marijuana. In 2017, 93.4 percent of New York City’s marijuana arrests were for public “view or burning” of marijuana. Arrests peaked in 2010, when 51,589 people were arrested for possession or public use.

Statistics on public smoking and possession arrests in 2017 from a study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Graph: Data for Collaborative Justice

Officials have stated that the OCM’s legalization policies, which include giving retail licenses to people previously convicted of marijuana offenses — such as Roland Conner, who opened Manhattan’s second legal dispensary this week — are an attempt to repair the harm done in the pre-legalization era. Cannabis remains a federal prohibited substance.

At least for now, outdoor smoking has joined the ranks of other NYC fines like anti-littering and pooper scooper laws. But let’s leave the final word to Erik Altieri, the executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Legalization can protect you from arrest, but it can’t protect you from people thinking you’re an asshole,” he told Forbes in 2021. “Consume responsibly.”

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