EDITORIAL: High times ahead?

WOW, MAN. This is like really the best thing ever in New York… for Massachusetts. It’s legal now to have 3 ounces of marijuana and as much as 24 grams of concentrated cannabis. Or was it 24 ounces of weed and 3 grams of concentrate? No, but wait does this mean everybody who wants to get high on weed has to learn the metric system?

It will take more than a good scale to end marijuana prohibition in this state. But what’s Massachusetts got to do with it? It’s just that the neighboring state legalized adult use of marijuana a few years ago and now has a lead in the retail marijuana business. New York may not have all its rules worked out for a couple of years. Until the details of what’s permitted for the cultivation, processing and sale of the plant in all its various forms are adopted and coordinated, the marijuana users of Columbia County will likely find themselves traveling to places like Great Barrington to lay in supplies for the weekend.

The promise of adult recreational use of marijuana that comes with legalization doesn’t lie only in the freedom it gives people to use the plants the way they want. The new law is also intended to end a police and political tactic where young men of color—mostly Black—were locked up for possessing small amounts of weed at much higher rates than young men who are white, though the data show that whites and Blacks used marijuana at the same rate.

The new law removes the criminal records of people who were convicted of marijuana crimes now legal under the new law. That may help some individuals heal from the damage to their lives done by the old marijuana prohibition laws. The new law’s backers also expect the legislation will help communities repair the social and economic toll resulting from the mass incarceration of Black men for minor drug crimes. Part of that effort is supposed to be funded by assuring that marijuana stores are located in minority communities.

Communities will also be able to opt out—a decision that would prohibit local marijuana stores.

The law identifies small farmers as a group that will receive support obtaining a license to sell marijuana. Marijuana is, by definition, a cash crop and if it can help small farms survive, that’s a reasonable goal. But what happens to farmers if their community opts out?

There will be plenty of unexpected impacts. What categories of hemp products will farmers enter in contests at the annual (we hope) Columbia County Fair? And think about the possibility of this county becoming a cannabis monoculture, where marijuana is practically all we grow because it’s too profitable to ignore. Does that sound like the fantasy of someone who indulges in marijuana? It’s not.

The most immediate threat from the law comes from the data on fatal crashes caused by drivers smoking cannabis. But whether it’s almost as bad as drunk driving or the same or worse remains unclear. Police who stop a motorist for DWI are left to depend on roadside assessments or calling for a blood test if they suspect cannabis.

We don’t need any more impaired drivers on our roads. Our country’s scientists have developed tests for bloodstream alcohol and for the presence of a deadly virus. Surely they can create a reliable way to identify who might be too stoned to drive safely.

And even if you don’t drive when high, smoking isn’t good for your health.

Over the next few months expect New York’s law on adult-use marijuana to pop up in the news. New York is one of only 15 states to make recreational cannabis legal. There isn’t a whole lot of experience to go on. But there is competition from many sides. New Jersey legalized adult use and Connecticut is considering a law too.

This law is about revenue, some of which will go to towns and counties. It’s about freedom to choose your type of recreation and about farming and business opportunities. We could do without it except that what it’s really about is justice. Let’s not delay that any longer.

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