Rooftop Cannabis Gardens In NYC Not Allowed (For Now)

On April 9th, New York City Mayor, Eric Adams, spoke in front of the New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislator’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference. 

During his speech, he spoke of his vision to build rooftop cannabis gardens on top of buildings owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Adams said that his dream included employing residents of the NYCHA to oversee and staff the gardens as New York gets ready to roll out its legalized recreational adult-use cannabis program.

“We want to examine the possibilities of having a greenhouse space on (NYCHA) rooftops to grow cannabis,” Adams said, according to MJBizDaily. “The jobs can come from NYCHA residents. The proceeds and education can go right into employing people right in the area.”

While this is, indeed, a great idea, the problem arises when it comes to actually doing it, as the NYCHA is a federally subsidized program.

The Legal Issue With Rooftop Cannabis Gardens

The issue of rooftop cannabis gardens arose during the conference when discussing the fact that cultivating the plant in a city as densely populated as New York could prove to be difficult. The solution to this problem, Adams said, was to use what space they had – namely, the vast amount of rooftops in the city. Hydroponic greenhouses on New York rooftops could solve the problem of where to cultivate cannabis in the newly legalized state.

[Related Reading: New York Being Proactive on Consumer Education]

However, the New York City Housing Authority is incredibly entwined with the HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, receiving more than half of their revenue through HUD subsidies. 

What this means is that the fact that cannabis is still illegal on a federal level makes it also illegal in federally subsidized public housing – even on the rooftops, which makes Adams’ vision a little more difficult to execute for the time being.

When the Gothamist reached out to HUD for comment on Adams’ idea, spokesperson Olga Alvarez had very little to say on the matter, “HUD has not been approached on this issue. There isn’t much more to say, marijuana is illegal in public housing.”

Although for the time being, it’s not yet feasible to erect rooftop greenhouses in which to grow cannabis, all may not be lost, if Adams were to shift his thinking slightly.

Urban Rooftop Farming For Food Sustainability

Though the roofs of the 335 public housing developments scattered across the city won’t be used for growing cannabis any time soon, they can be put to good use. 

Urban rooftop farming has quickly become a huge, worldwide phenomenon that’s only going to continue to grow as more people look to new and innovative ways to help with food sustainability, especially in areas where most of their fresh produce has to be imported. 

Paris, France is known around the globe for its world-class cuisine, however, like most large metropolitan areas, the majority of the city’s fresh produce has to be imported. An initiative in the City of Lights, called Nature Urbaine, is working to change that. Nature Urbaine has constructed the largest rooftop garden in the world, spread out over 14,000 square feet on top of Paris Expo’s Pavillion 6, with which it nourishes Parisians with tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, beets, mint, basil, and a whole host of other organic fruits, vegetables, and aromatics. 

Lufa Farms, in Montreal, Quebec, has calculated that by converting just 19 roofs of averaged-sized shopping malls into rooftop gardens, enough fruits and vegetables could be grown to feed the entirety of the city. Having already developed four rooftop gardens in Montreal, Lufa Farms are well on their way to realizing their sustainability dreams. 

David Maffeo, Senior Director of Support Services at the Boston Medical Center has been quoted as saying, “Food is medicine,” which is why the roof of the hospital has been developed into a lush, thriving garden. The Boston Medical Center’s rooftop garden provides fresh local produce to the hospital’s patients and cafeterias as well as the Preventative Food Pantry, which provides free food for low-income patients.

How Rooftop Gardens Could Help New Yorkers Living In Poverty

New York City is home to almost 9 million people, and 17.95% of them are currently living in poverty. For those of you who don’t want to do the math, that’s about 1.5 million people. 

The New York City Housing Authority currently has 355 public housing developments in New York’s Five Burroughs, that house around 500,000 people, the vast majority of which are living in poverty, with many not even knowing where their next meal is coming from.

If Eric Adams pushed forward with his vision for rooftop gardens in NYC and shifted his focus from cannabis to food sustainability, not only could those residents of NYCHA developments find employment among the rooftop gardens – perhaps helping to lift them out of poverty – but it could also provide them with fresh, local, healthy food. Sometimes many New Yorkers are severely and sadly lacking.

While the idea of rooftop cannabis gardens in a city like New York where greenery is hard to find is a good one, the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal makes it one that won’t come to fruition just yet.

In the meantime, if Mayor Eric Adams shifted his focus to the 1.5 million people in his city who are impacted by food insecurity, he could do a world of good by using those rooftops to create urban farms that promote food sustainability, healthy eating habits, employment for his poverty-stricken citizens.

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