NEW YORK — Moise Joseph spent his Wednesday night standing at the front of a smoky room, blunt in hand, teaching a dozen people how to paint a sunset.
“You can make it straight if you’d like. It doesn’t have to have that fish-eye scope,” Joseph said as he demonstrated how to paint a thin, curved line for the horizon. “There should be a display on everyone’s table that you can see.”
Pedro Santos, who is 39 and lives in the South Bronx, was at the class in a T-shirt that read “TROPHY HUSBAND.” He slowly looked around his table and whispered, “What display?”
As his table-mates pointed to the 8-by-11-inch canvas that had been sitting mere inches from him for nearly half the class, everyone began cracking up.
“Nobody was going to tell me?” he said with a laugh. “’Cause I was like, what are we making?”
Joseph, 30, who lives in the New York City neighborhood of Brooklyn, was teaching at Puff, Pass and Paint, a bring-your-own-cannabis painting class with locations in multiple cities that draws hundreds of people each month in Brooklyn alone. The attendees at his special Wednesday night class were there for 4/20, an annual holiday that celebrates marijuana.
New York state legalized recreational marijuana use last March, and the state’s first recreational dispensaries are slated to open by the end of the year. New York City Mayor Eric Adams this week proposed investing $4.8 million in the cannabis industry, which is expected to generate nearly $1.3 billion in sales in its first year.
Many local cannabis lounges and parties are still underground, operating in word-of-mouth realms until the state begins awarding venues licenses for on-site consumption. But legal status for these spaces is not too far away.
Chris Alexander, executive director of New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, said that his office hoped to open up applications for on-site consumption licenses by early next year.
The office is aiming to develop regulations that cover many different kinds of sites, from restaurants serving cannabis-infused foods to smoke lounges and coffee shops.
“We’re definitely considering how people have typically consumed and where people have typically consumed,” he said.
But it is tricky to regulate a scene that has been operating underground for decades, and New Yorkers have always been capable of finding their own dealers, smoking spots and creative ways to consume weed in public.
Steve, founder of a members-only cannabis lounge that opened earlier this year, said that he was occasionally commissioned to set up cannabis bars at parties, where he recommends various strains of weed and apparatuses that can be used. (Steve asked not to use his full name or the name of his lounge, out of fear of legal repercussions.)
“The first thing I do is gauge their experience with cannabis, because then from there, I can tailor how much they’re going to consume and also what device they’re going to use,” he said. “Something that I care about a lot is introducing the plant in a proper way.”
Steve, who has been working in the underground cannabis industry since 2014, said that he hoped to see the industry become less stigmatized and more approachable.
“Imagine if wine existed and we just didn’t know what we know on a sommelier level,” he said. “Customers will eventually be able to really understand what they want. Like, ‘I want an edible, and I want it to keep me awake,’ or, ‘I like to smoke because it hits me faster.’”
A basic level of comfort and confidence with weed is what helped Heidi Keyes, 36, found Puff, Pass and Paint in 2014 in Denver after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. The school now has locations in five cities across the country, including the studio in Brooklyn.
And though many lounges and other cannabis-friendly consumption spaces are waiting to get licenses before throwing their doors open publicly, Keyes said Puff, Pass and Paint has been comfortably operating in New York City for the last three years, when it started inviting medical patients to bring their own cannabis.
“We do all BYOC, so we’re not providing any cannabis, and we’re not acting as a dispensary in any way,” she said. “Every different location we go into, we have our lawyers look at it just to make sure, because there’s different regulations per state, county, city, sometimes neighborhood, sometimes street.”
The week of 4/20, Keyes said, is one of the painting class’s busiest times.
“It’s about community,” she said. “It used to be that so many people had to consume in private and sometimes couldn’t even tell their friends and family about it because they were worried about getting into trouble with work or people judging them.”
Fernando Terrero, 29, had come to Brooklyn from Jersey City, New Jersey, to go on a date with his boyfriend, Santos. A single red rose sat on the table next to their paintings.
“Since I met him, I smoke way more now,” Terrero said. “And I rarely drink. I’d rather be high, not wake up with a hangover, and just live my life.
“I’ve never been a club-type of person — like, take me to a museum, take me to the movies, I love traveling — but clubbing was never something that resonated,” Santos added. “I love experiences.”
Mike Shashaty, 34, who lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and attended the Puff, Pass and Paint class with his husband, said it was nice to find spaces that felt different from the rest of the city’s nightlife.
“New York City is very dependent on drinking,” Shashaty said. “I like to drink every once in a while, but not every time I go out.”
As the room filled with smoke over the course of two hours, everyone continued painting sunsets and various abstractions, slowly but surely.
“I’m high,” Santos said, “so every detail matters.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.