Let's make one thing clear off the bat: Recreational cannabis was not yet legal in New York as of this guide's publishing. If The Man catches you in possession of even a small amount, you could face a ticket and a fine. If you're carrying larger amounts, the stakes are higher.
That said, the statewide legalization of weed seems inevitable.
Lawmakers have floated bills to end the prohibition on recreational pot for years, but when Governor Andrew Cuomo submitted a budget proposal last year that would have legalized cannabis he opened the door wide. Cuomo and legislators ultimately couldn't come to agreement on legalization, but the governor has taken another shot at it this year. The budget is due in April, and if legalization is approved, it is likely it won't take effect for some time.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, may prove an obstacle to legalization. As this guide was published, the state was ramping up its response to the public health crisis and lawmakers had turned their attention to other issues, particularly paid sick leave.
Right now, Rochesterians who want pot will have to look to the black market or take a trip out of state — or even across the border. Recreational cannabis is legal in Canada and it takes about an hour and half to get there.
For the average cannabis consumer, Rochester is a fairly safe space right now, though. Legislation that took effect last year decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis has resulted in the weed becoming less hush-hush. Catching someone pulling out a bowl at a bar's backyard fire pit is a familiar sight at many places throughout the city.
If you are, however, caught with less than an ounce of bud on you, police can give you a ticket and you'll face a maximum fine of $50. But police often look the other way for small-time personal use.
"I know that I've personally smoked near RPD officers at places like Party in the Park, and nobody bothered us," said Mary Kruger, president of the Rochester chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Police in Rochester generally have more important things to deal with."
Despite the legal status of cannabis, Rochester has a steady flow of bud, dabs, and edibles from legal havens like California and Colorado. Kruger said local bud is also just fine, and not too expensive. Expect to pay between $180 and $220 an ounce for bud. Comparably, at Massachusetts' legal Theory Wellness Dispensary, an ounce of bud runs at $340.
"We really have a lot of great growers here, so much that people from around the region come to Rochester to get their cannabis," Kruger said.
Even if the psychoactive parts of cannabis are outlawed in New York, Rochester's CBD and hemp scene are booming. On April 18th and 19th, NORML will host the FLWR City Cup competition at Three Heads Brewing, pitting the best in CBD buds, tinctures, and edibles against each other. The competition will also feature live glass blowing and music from bluegrass pickers Dirty Blanket and reggae-roots ensemble The Medicinals.
"This is the Flower City, it's about time we add a new meaning to that," Kruger said.
Yes, you cannabis . . . in Canada
Although weed is readily available in any form and strain imaginable in Rochester, acquiring it can be a hassle. No one likes waiting two hours for their bud to be delivered in a 2003 Toyota Corolla or to be ghosted after a dragged out text exchange.
A trip over the border can be a simpler alternative. Recreational possession and use of cannabis is legal in Canada, though each province set the rules on who can sell it and who can buy it. In Ontario, anyone over the age of 19 who has a valid ID can buy cannabis and can possess up to 30 grams — approximately an ounce — of dried cannabis. More details are available at ontario.ca/page/cannabis.
Niagara Falls is about a 90-minute drive from Rochester and is home to a bounty of recreational dispensaries, each licensed by the province of Ontario. The nugs are pretty cheap — an ounce of the hybrid strain Blueberry goes for $100 Canadian at the KushNation dispensary, or about $75 (USD).
But do not attempt to bring cannabis over the border. Just don't. Pot is legal in Canada, but federal U.S. law considers it a controlled substance. Bringing weed over the border can get you a federal trafficking charge.
Customs and Border Patrol officials are very serious about these laws. Trying to bring back a pungent green souvenir from our neighbor to the north is not worth the risk.