On Tuesday, a giant joint towered over Times Square in a flashing billboard, congratulating New York on legalizing marijuana and wishing revelers a happy 4/20, a date which has come to be known as the pot smoker’s holiday.

A few years ago, this ad wouldn’t fly—a restriction that its buyer knows firsthand. Weedmaps, a mapping website that locates nearby dispensaries, was banned from attempting a similar stunt in 2014 when New York rubber-stamped medical marijuana.

The ad in Times Square was one sign of how far the zeitgeist has shifted since the state legalized bud just a few weeks ago. Many who celebrated yesterday were just happy to do what they’ve been doing all along—albeit with less stigma attached and less fear of police overwatch. The air of defiance that usually accompanies mass public displays of pot-smoking on 4/20 was replaced this year with a frisson of victory.

“There used to be protests and a lot of people with signs, and this is the first year that we actually have achieved that collective goal of getting it legalized,” said James, 25, who was smoking with his friend Tuesday evening in Washington Square Park. “Everyone’s here, and it’s a beautiful thing.” Even though pot is now legal, James was one of many interviewed who declined to give their last name.

Marijuana aromas waft over Washington Square on most spring evenings, but Tuesday happened to be blessed with perfect 70-degree weather, and the park was packed. Jazz and reggae bands played, and it was hard to spot a group of friends who didn’t have at least one fat joint going around. People danced and posed for pictures with a very dapper man wearing a lion’s head—it turned out to be the mascot for an Arizona-based cannabis company called Darwin that aims to sell its wares in New York. Others sported more conservative costumes such as pot-leaf leggings.

“We come out here like damn near every week, but today is different for a fact,” said Justice Rome, 22, while puffing out smoke.

Event organizer Todd Hinden at a free joint giveaway for people who have had their COVID vaccinations in Union Square, New York City.

People line up for a free joint giveaway for those who have had their COVID vaccinations in Union Square.

Artist Sphynxx Deity expressed her joy by displaying an installation she made of giant bags filled with (fake) marijuana, flanked by blowup aliens.

“It’s more than just 4/20. It’s 3/31 for me because that’s when New York legalized marijuana recreationally,” she said, as people walking by tried to figure out if the bags contained real weed. “This is my creative flow, just a good narrative for people who smoke.”

One merrymaker, Jay, 27, was also selling marijuana in the park—something he claimed to have taken up that day. Under the new law, selling up to three ounces of marijuana is a violation akin to jay-walking.

“I feel like now I could make money,” Jay said, who asked to withhold his last name while also noting that he was only carrying an ounce (possessing up to three ounces is legal). “I’m not hurting nobody. I’m not harming nobody. I’m just trying to show the community love.”

Further uptown in Union Square, a guy in a pot-leaf-covered suit and a top hat gave away free joints to anyone who had received a COVID-19 vaccine, attracting a long line of people.

Some 4/20 festivities still had a clandestine vibe—partly because of the pandemic but also because New York’s vast cannabis culture is still emerging from the shadows. That includes weed-centric gatherings, typically promoted on Instagram, where those selling cannabis products can display their inventory.

In Bed Stuy, an empty lot was transformed with colorful Caribbean flags and twinkle lights, a makeshift bar, a DJ booth and a stand selling vegan food infused with cannabis. Most of the party took place outdoors, but in a room off to the side, people could buy buds and edibles displayed in colorful, branded packaging similar to what is used to sell products at dispensaries.

Christopher West poses with cofounder Adjante of the collective Road to Zion as they set up for a 4/20 party in Bed Stuy, April 12th, 2021.

At a 4/20 party in Bed Stuy, a company called Secret Garden sold cannabis-infused vegan food.

The collective Road to Zion put on the party, and their name adorned giant flyers plastered around the neighborhood in the days leading up to 4/20. Christopher West, one of Road to Zion’s founders, aims to position the name as a cannabis brand in the legal industry in New York, although they haven’t yet decided on a business model. West previously worked in a dispensary in Colorado and created the collective with a friend from Brooklyn.

He said he put on Tuesday’s party as much to raise awareness about legalization in the community as to celebrate.

“That white-label, corporate experience has allowed me to take those skills and experiences and bring them out here to Brooklyn and hopefully educate and enlighten those who might be somewhat timid about legalization,” said West.

Others at the party chatted about their plans to enter the legal industry, but most people smoked joints in the lot as they sipped their drinks, danced and enjoyed the weather. Aside from the DJ shouting out “4/20” between tracks, it felt like any other party in Brooklyn.