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Up in smoke: Parks Dept., police crack down on Washington Square pot bazaar

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Oct. 15, 2:45 p.m.: On second thought, maybe don’t come to the casbah… .

There’s a new Parks Department captain in town — and he’s cracking down on vending in Washington Square Park, and that includes the park’s new “cannabis casbah.”

Captain St. Louis, the new commanding officer of Park Enforcement Patrol (a.k.a. “PEP,” the Parks Department’s green-uniformed officers) for Manhattan South, met Thursday with Sixth Precinct police officers to discuss conditions at the landmark Village park. Illegal vending is something the Parks honcho definitely plans to address, according to Evrim Can, a precinct community affairs officer.

“We want Parks to take the lead with vending, skateboarding, all quality-of-life issues in the park,” Can said. “He’s already enforcing the vending. He’s going to enforce it, and we’re going to be behind him. We already agreed to that.”

Can said St. Louis has a plan for the park.

“He sees some issues that he wants to correct,” he said.

According to a Parks Department spokesperson, on Wednesday PEP officers and cops chased out around a half-dozen vendors from Washington Square.

“We are working in collaboration with N.Y.P.D. to address unauthorized vending at Washington Square Park,” she told The Village Sun. “Our Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers removed five vendors and issued two summonses for operating without a permit yesterday. We will continue to adjust our approach as needed.

“Our PEP officers’ first course of action is to educate parkgoers to our rules,” the spokesperson added. “If [the rules are] not followed, the next step would be to issue a summons, and only in extremely rare circumstances would we effectuate an arrest.”

It was not clear how many, if any, of the above vendors were selling marijuana products. Asked for clarification, the spokesperson did not provide an immediate answer. Meanwhile, the Sixth Precinct’s Can said Parks would be the ones to ask about how many of the vendors in question were offering ganja. However, many of the vendors recently in the park have been peddling pre-rolled joints, edibles, pot gummies and the like.

A jewelry maker in Washington Square Park on a recent night said he makes everything he vends. But, even though it’s a craft, like all jewelry vendors, he apparently would need a vending license. It wasn’t clear if he had one. When not in the Village park, he tours with Dead & Company. (Photo by The Village Sun)

More broadly speaking, vending in parks and on New York City public property, in general, must receive the proper approvals from the appropriate city agencies. On the other hand, First Amendment-protected “expressive matter,” such as printed material and artwork, is allowed, with some conditions.

Some vendors might contend they aren’t selling anything, rather merely accepting “donations” — but the regulations don’t allow for that, either.

The “no donations” rule, however, does not apply to musicians playing in the park because busking is also considered protected free speech, according to the spokesperson. Amplified sound, on the other hand, has been the main issue with musicians.

According to the Parks Department’s rules on vending: “No person in or on any property under the jurisdiction of the Department shall sell, offer for sale, hire, lease, or let anything whatsoever, including, but not limited to goods, services, or entertainment, or provide or offer to provide services, items, or entertainment in exchange for a donation (hereinafter “vend”), except under and within the terms of a permit, or except as otherwise provided by law.”

Other vendors in the park have been selling clothes, like T-shirts with slogans printed on them, jeans and more, displayed on standing garment racks, a seeming violation of park rules. On the other hand, the guys who peck out poems on demand on manual typewriters are probably allowed to do so since it’s “expressive matter.” As for a vendor who sells handmade phallic-shaped candles, it wasn’t immediately clear if it would be allowed as “expressive matter.”

Corrections: The original version of this article incorrectly said that musicians busking in the park cannot technically accept donations under the Parks Department regulations on vending. A Parks spokesperson subsequently clarified that because busking in the park is considered “expressive matter,” accepting donations for it is allowed. In addition, a photo caption in the original version of this article said vending one’s own handmade jewelry in the park would be allowed since the jewelry would be considered “expressive matter,” as well. But Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), subsequently clarified that vending jewelry in New York City requires a vending license.


  1. cerqueuxles cerqueuxles October 15, 2021

    Why aren’t they cracking down on the crack? On the people defecating on the lawn…people giving blow jobs in the bushes…people attacking people on the benches? Homeless drug users and pushers who come up to you saying they’d like to punch you in the face…and trying to steal your watch? Bare bottom- and penis-exposed homeless, who are all over…? It’s an unsafe, disgusting park now. Where are the police and the rangers? Yesterday, a CAR drove into the park at the northeast entrance, and drove at 70 miles an hour. Not a cop or ranger in sight…

    • Patricia Melvin Patricia Melvin October 16, 2021

      Seriously, a speeding car?? How terrifying! Agree, the park has been a horrible place to visit for the last couple of years.

  2. richard klein richard klein October 15, 2021

    And, as always, our do-nothing Community Board 2 does absolutely nothing. CB 2 has their heads in the sand, afraid to look up because then something may have to actually be done on behalf of those who live within the neighborhood.
    Other community boards throughout the city immediately respond to the open flouting of rules, laws and regulations occurring in their jurisdiction. Why is our CB so afraid to do anything?

    • Caroline Zucarro Caroline Zucarro October 19, 2021

      I’ve said it before.
      Old adage: A dead fish stinks at the head first.
      That Fish is Community Board 2.
      They’ve mismanaged this park for years with no plan in sight, time for change. When will people take action.

  3. STEVEN G HILL STEVEN G HILL October 15, 2021

    SO DUMB, in the park’s northwest corner, speedballs, heroin, Oxy and who knows what are sold DAILY…NO ENFORCEMENT!!!

  4. fred up fred up October 15, 2021

    Pre-Covid, my children were ordered by PEP not to ride their scooters in the park or sell lemonade. Go figure. Where is the Parks Dept on this? Who is in charge of enforcement? Where are the electeds? NYPD is doing the best they can with their hands tied behind their backs. They are targets too. We need a full-on takeover of the park by local citizens. Parks are for law-abiding citizens not criminals. LET’S TAKE BACK OUR PARK!!!!!

  5. Terry Katz Terry Katz October 15, 2021

    It doesn’t matter what they are selling only that they are selling. Broken-windows policing works by addressing the small quality of life offenses first. That is why it has turned into a pit around the Hanging Elm. Lawlessness give the bridge and tunnel people a sense of impunity, that they can come to New York to do whatever they want to whomever they want, without consequence. The only consequence is that the people who live in New York are the ones who suffer.

  6. Terry Katz Terry Katz October 15, 2021

    Finally PEP is doing something. The NYPD 6th Precinct is good for nothing. The rule against vending of any kind needs to be enforced. Bridge and Tunnel people have turned Washington Square into a flea market. The can sell in a parking lot near where they live or they can rent one of the dozens of empty storefronts on 8th Street.

    • STEVEN G HILL STEVEN G HILL October 15, 2021

      It was a cleanup because of a Washington Square Park Conservancy event last night in the park… You won’t see Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) do much today!

  7. Carmine Strassa Carmine Strassa October 14, 2021

    That hippie in tie dye selling bracelets by the fountain is not a threat to society.
    But dealing crack, heroin, pills and shooting up, nodding out and smoking in the northwest corner goes on without enforcement?
    Hey Village Sun, walk through there with a camera any day and chronicle/report on what’s going on there, come on. Expose it!!

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