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Some New Jersey and New York Towns Want to Opt Out of Selling Cannabis. That's a Mistake.

Four worthwhile benefits to permitting legal cannabis sales in your municipality.

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As state lawmakers in New Jersey and New York determine how to enact recreational cannabis measures, local governments must decide whether or not to permit cannabis businesses in their communities. Although towns can help shape what the regional market will look like, many of them are hesitant to welcome cannabis businesses with open arms.

According to New Jersey state law, towns have until August 21, 2021 — 180 days after legalization — to “opt out” of the state program. But a town that opts out can opt in at any time. If a town doesn’t take action to either opt-in or out, however, state law goes into effect, disallowing the ban of any cannabis establishments for five years. Any pre-existing ordinances prohibiting cannabis sales enacted before recreational legalization passing are null and void.

Per New York state law, towns have until December 31, 2021 — nine months after legalization — to pass a law banning retail dispensaries and other cannabis businesses from operating in their communities. The Empire state’s guidelines are very similar to the Garden state’s: those who opt-out can later opt-in, those who don’t opt-in or -out will be governed by state law, and pre-existing cannabis sales bans are null and void.

While the Northeast is still a fairly new region for recreational cannabis, there are many worthwhile benefits to permitting legal cannabis sales in a municipality. Here are just a few.

Related: Violence, Drug Busts, and Black Market Weed Take Over California's Desert Communities

1. Cannabis promotes tourism

The Jersey Shore, Ellis Island, Manhattan, and the Catskill Mountains are only a few of the many tourist hotspots in New Jersey and New York. Legal cannabis has the chance to not only keep these resorts running but bring in significantly more profits and tourists overall. Since gaining momentum in the past decade, cannabis businesses have developed unique attractions for tourists, including but not limited to bus tours, cannabis-friendly hotel accommodations, paint nights, and more.

Even local businesses outside of the cannabis industry benefit from increased tourism. For instance, Marijuana Moment reports legalization boosts hotel booking rates:

“By comparing hotel room rentals in Colorado and Washington to states that did not change their legal status of marijuana from 2011 through 2015, researchers found that legalization coincided with a significant influx of tourists and a rise in hotel revenue. The impact was even more pronounced after the start of retail sales.”

 

2. Cannabis doesn't impact youth consumption

A common prohibitionist talking point is the supposed increased youth consumption of cannabis post-legalization. Several emerging empirical studies have since debunked this ill-informed notion.

As the Marijuana Policy Project emphasizes, underage cannabis consumption doesn’t rise following recreational legalization. Likewise, the presence of cannabis businesses won’t encourage nor increase youth consumption. A recent study published in the Journal of Cannabis found that young adults living in areas with dense cannabis retailers weren’t more likely to consume cannabis, e-cigarettes, or cannabis mixed with tobacco and/or nicotine in the future. 

Cannabis legalization does, however, present the opportunity to teach harm reduction to young people. The Drug Policy Alliance developed one of the first harm reduction curriculums, Safety First, to be taught in high schools. Additionally, our own NisonCo Account Manager Lucas Wentworth is currently advocating for the New York state to require the 911 Good Samaritan Law in public schools.

 

3. Cannabis creates employment opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unemployment crisis on a massive, international scale. Local towns have been forced to grapple with this reality. 

According to the 2021 Leafly jobs report, the cannabis industry accounts for more than 321,000 full-time jobs as of January 2021. Seventy-seven thousand of that number were added in 2020 alone — despite a global pandemic. This number should expand widely, especially given federal cannabis reform measures such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunities Act. Leafly predicts industry jobs to increase by 161 percent over the next four years.

 

4. Cannabis brings in local cashflow

Towns reap the benefits of sales taxes, which can be reinvested back into the community. Notably, the Chicago suburb of Evanston made cannabis history by becoming the first U.S. city to offer Black Americans reparations using sales tax from recreational cannabis sales. The Associated Press reports the City Council voted to distribute $10 million over the next decade with a distribution of $400,000 to eligible Black households.

Colorado’s cannabis market is particularly known for its financial redistribution to schools. Westworld reports the state’s cannabis industry is expected to generate $1.5 billion in state tax revenue over the next several years, with nearly $500 million going towards school funding and construction. Already in 2021, schools will be receiving $100 million from the state’s Marijuana Cash Fund, Westworld also reports.

In 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to utilize tax revenue from legal marijuana sales to improve the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), according to Marijuana Moment. In January 2021, New York University published a report entitled, “How to Save the Subway Fare with Cannabis,” which “analyzes how potential cannabis revenues can be used to maintain current fares, thus relieving the burden on families and workers who depend on public transit for access to work, school, and health care.”

Eventually, the cannabis economy will become inevitable since sales will be available throughout the state regardless. Eventually, nearly all towns in our region will want to reap the benefits. New Jersey and New York towns have two options: help shape the emerging regional market or sit on the sidelines and see neighboring municipalities reap the rewards.