The legality of adult-use cannabis in New York has brought forth plenty of online chatter regarding the plant’s potential harms and benefits, how the new legalization bill will impact young people and traffic safety, and whether or not having dispensaries locally would outweigh the suspected dangers of cannabis use.
As a natural health writer, a local business owner who educates community members about the uses and benefits of cannabis, and an advocate for ending the stigma surrounding the plant, I think it’s in the best interest of the town to opt in and allow an adult-use cannabis dispensary within Huntington. The town board will have the opportunity to block all cannabis-related businesses within its boundaries, but there are several reasons why that would be an uninformed and ill-advised choice by the council.
Cannabis Tax Revenue
This isn’t all about money, as some residents have insinuated, but there are funds to be made and used throughout Huntington if it were to host a recreational dispensary. The governor suggests that the program will create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs and tax collection will initially reach $350 million annually, but how much of that would go to a participating town or village?
While annual sales range depending on location, reports indicate that adult-use dispensaries are realizing revenues of $100,000 (for smaller businesses in rural areas) to $10 million in sales per year. In the New York bill, all cannabis products will be subject to a 13% sales tax, with 9% going to the state and 4% going to local municipalities. The local tax will be split into three categories, with 40% going towards education, 40% going to a Community Grant Reinvestment Fund, and 20% going to a Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund.
Based on a very conservative estimate of a Huntington-based dispensary making $1 million in sales per year, that would be about $40,000 in tax revenue split among these categories. For a successful business, annual sales can be closer to what larger dispensaries are making in states like Massachusetts, Colorado and Arizona, thereby providing the town with more substantial yearly funds. New York is expected to capture and tax $1.2 billion from the recreational cannabis market by 2023 and $4.2 billion by 2027.
If Huntington does not allow for the sale of recreational cannabis, residents will simply purchase it from the closest participating town and the potential community funds will be going there instead – to their schools, roads, playgrounds and programs.
A History Rooted in Racism
But cannabis reform goes far beyond the financial benefits. The plant should have never been categorized as a Schedule I substance in the first place, sitting alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Under the Schedule I definition, the substance should have “no currently accepted medical use.” We now know that this simply isn’t true – cannabis has been linked to several health benefits, which is exactly why Huntington has hosted a medicinal marijuana dispensary for years.
The root of the plant’s shady history started decades ago. In 1930, Harry Jacob Anslinger became the director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and would continue to run the FBN for three decades. He took on the role of the tough “law and order drug buster,” but in reality, he was a racist who maliciously depicted “marijuana” as a sinister substance that made Mexican and African American men lust after white women. In his efforts to have the plant outlawed he said, “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured.”
Sound familiar? This kind of rhetoric was being repeated this week by local politicians and residents alike. Although Anslinger’s political stance always seemed to be about crime and safety, the subtext was always about race and using people of color as an excuse to ban “marijuana” – a term that was invented to sound foreign and dangerous. The damage, however, has lived on and the plant has been villainized ever since. Along the way, the legalization of cannabis has changed the life trajectories of countless black and brown Americans, with one in 4 cannabis related arrests affecting people of color. Meanwhile, one national survey showed that cannabis use among white and black Americans is about equivalent, and Hispanic Americans tend to use it less.
How would the Huntington message of inclusivity and social equity pair well with opting out of this well-deserved and long-awaited reform?
Ban Cannabis Sales While Profiting from Alcohol?
Many will use the dangers of cannabis as an excuse to opt out. Although it seems like an ironic argument from a council that represents Huntington Village – where there’s at least 20 businesses selling alcohol within a few blocks. This comparison, and frankly hypocrisy, isn’t often recognized. According to the CDC, alcohol, which is legal in all 50 states, is responsible for 88,000 deaths every year and 2.5 million years of potential life lost. One in 10 deaths among working-age adults are caused by excessive drinking. A 2016 report found that among Americans aged 18 and older, 26% were involved in binge drinking in the past month, while 9% used cannabis. To boot, the CDC also confirmed that people can’t ingest a lethal dose of cannabis, unlike alcohol.
This isn’t to say that cannabis doesn’t have its dangers, but let’s admit that we collectively condone recreational alcohol use, and profit from it regularly within the Town of Huntington. Just as moderate alcohol use is “okay” here, so is using cannabis moderately, and responsibility. Under this new bill, we can trust adults to make decisions about their means of entertainment, relaxation, pain management and so forth.
The Go-To Arguments Against Adult-Use Cannabis
There are three other issues that are typically brought up in the fight against adult-use cannabis. One is the potential increase of young users. Studies evaluating the impact of cannabis legalization on young people have found mixed results. While there are some reports indicating that legalization may increase use, there are some that conclude the exact opposite. A 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, which used data from 1993 to 2017 involving 27 states, found that there is no evidence that legalization of marijuana encourages use among young people. Moreover, researchers concluded that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes, which may be due to drug dealers being replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.
Legalization supporters are not advocating for cannabis use among young people. Instead, they are pointing out that the implementation of regulated dispensaries may reduce the occurrence of under-age use. If your youngsters are using cannabis, it’s likely purchased from a black-market dealer, which is completely unregulated and potentially more harmful.
Another concern is traffic safety after legalization. Again, the research on this issue is mixed. A 2020 study, for instance, found that in states where cannabis use is legal, there was an increase in “protective attitudes related to cannabis use and driving” and “users from states with legal recreational cannabis sales had significantly lower prevalence of driving after cannabis use and higher prevalence of protective attitudes compared to those from states without legal recreational sales.”
And a 2021 study that collected records of motor vehicle collisions in 5 states from 2006-2018 found that there was no apparent increase in the incidence of driving under the influence of marijuana after legalization. Based on the data, there did not appear to be a relationship between the legalization of marijuana and the likelihood of finding THC in patients admitted to the hospital after motor vehicle collisions.
Additionally, under the bill, law enforcement is tasked with defining a test that effectively measures whether or not someone is driving while impaired by cannabis. In the past, residents would be charged for simply smelling like cannabis and having possession, but under its new legal status, driving under the influence will have to be proven. Of course, driving after cannabis use has always been illegal and will continue to be illegal.
In addition, there’s the “gateway drug” argument. The CDC itself and many other studies suggest that “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances. One brazen politician stated this week that cannabis legalization would increase opioid use within our county. But that’s not what the evidence shows, at all. In fact, A 2021 study published in BMJ Clinical Research indicates that “higher medical and recreational storefront dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid related death rates, particularly deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.” According to the data, an increase from one to two storefront dispensaries in a county is associated with an estimated 17% reduction in all opioid related mortality rates. With that, there is an estimated 21% reduction in mortality rates from non-methadone opioid use.
A slew of evidence suggests that cannabis access is actually associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths.
What a Huntington Cannabis Dispensary Should Look Like
For starters, any adult-use (and medicinal) cannabis dispensary will be highly regulated. All products within a dispensary will have to be lab tested to ensure there are no heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides or toxic additives present. The label will indicate the dosage and THC percentage, which will also have to be verified with a lab test. This is much safer than the unregulated black market, where products can be laced, contain toxic ingredients and generally are very high in THC, the plant’s intoxicating compounds.
Ideally, an adult-use cannabis dispensary will focus on education and providing consumers with several strain options that have specific effects on the body. There will be low THC options for adults who wish to use the plant for relaxation and sleep, and higher THC options for a more euphoric effect. High THC products will be taxed more heavily under the signed bill. All of these products will come from New York-based farms and processors, who are also benefiting from local sales.
In addition, dispensary owners have an opportunity to work in concert with community campaigns to educate young people on the harms of cannabis use during development and adults on using cannabis responsibly.
This bill has been a long time coming and opting in to participate can have a positive impact on Huntington by providing additional annual funds to community programs, giving cannabis users (who are likely already purchasing illegally or from neighboring states) a safe space to buy products, and implementing educational campaigns that focus on using the plant safely.
The author is a published natural health writer and owner of ENDO Ethos, a hemp apothecary with two locations in the Town of Huntington.