It’s finally happened! It’s what we’ve all been waiting for — recreational cannabis use has been legalized within the state of New York! On Wednesday March 31, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation into law effectively legalizing the use and possession of recreational marijuana for all adults over the age of 21. Shortly after signing the monumental piece of legislation, Cuomo sent out a tweet declaring that it was a “historic day.”
But why exactly is the day so historic? For starters, adults in New York are now able to legally smoke marijuana anywhere where tobacco is legally allowed to be smoked, besides motor vehicles. Adults can also possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana at any given time, and can even legally grow up to six plants per person, three mature and three immature, or up to 12 , six mature and six immature, for a household. Not only this, but the new law now allows for the sale of cannabis, with the inclusion of a 13 percent cannabis sales tax. Besides the obvious income marijuana sales will bring to New York, legalized selling will directly impact the Binghamton community in a positive way. The legal sale of marijuana is a powerful way to cut out marijuana sold on the streets, which in many cases may be laced along with substances far more powerful and dangerous than cannabis. Legal distribution will also open the space for brick and mortar businesses within Binghamton that can sell marijuana, offering an opportunity to increase the number of small businesses in the area. Marijuana dispensaries, clubs and bars are also potential contributing factors to local tourism, which offer the chance to level the playing field between vacationers heading to the city versus upstate.
Even more importantly, the law expunges the criminal records of individuals convicted of cannabis-related offenses in the state. This will make it far easier for past convicts to start businesses and get hired, and will even go as far as to release individuals already in prison. A principal element of expungement will also encompass retribution for those disproportionately convicted based upon race. In 2020 alone, people of color made up more than 94 percent of marijuana-related arrests in New York City, according to CBS News. In a way of giving back, folks with prior convictions will be among those prioritized to attain licenses which will allow for the cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana products.
Liz Krueger, the bill’s State Senate sponsor, stated in a recent press release, “My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities.” Evidently, New York State has quite literally fulfilled some of the high expectations that advocates have had for years now.
However, I would argue that the most historic element of this newly passed legislation is one which has the potential to change the landscape of Binghamton for decades to come: economic opportunity. New York State predicts that with a 13 percent sales tax imposed on cannabis sales, $350 million will be raised in tax revenue each year, in addition to creating some 60,000 jobs. These numbers, while optimistic, are just speculations at this point in time. However, based upon data from regions which have already experienced the legalization of cannabis, one can quickly realize why Binghamton has much to benefit from Cuomo’s decision last month.
States such as Colorado, Massachusetts and California have experienced wildly successful increases in state income due to marijuana-related commerce and business. Firstly, let’s take a look at Colorado. Over $302 million in taxes and fees from both medical and recreational marijuana in addition to sales of over $1.7 billion were collected by Colorado in 2019 alone. Colorado, being one of the first states to legalize the sale of cannabis, proves here that marijuana is not merely an industry which will gain hype only to subsequently die down, but is an industry with potential for long-term success.
Next: Massachusetts. Massachusetts is important to consider, for the first legalized retailers only opened in 2018, meaning that their success can reflect the potential success New York will garner in its first few years as a legal state. According to the Cannabis Control Commission, in the first year of opening marijuana retailers, $393.7 million was generated in gross sales as of November 2019. I would not be surprised to see similar trends in New York’s marijuana baby years.
Last but not least, the Golden State. One would be diligent to compare California’s success to what New York may experience, for both states are unique in the sizes of their massive economies and populations. From 2018 to 2019, California’s cannabis sales had generated “$411.3 million in excise tax, $98.9 million in cultivation tax and $335.1 million in sales tax,” and this steamroll of a trend is not only affecting individual state economies. According to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, “sales in the U.S were $12.2 billion in 2019 and projected to increase to $31.1 billion by 2024.”
A dramatic influx of tax and fee revenue by New York state from cannabis sales is a catalyst which would ultimately serve our local community very well. Millions of dollars can be reinvested into local institutions and infrastructure, benefitting both permanent residents and students and revitalizing the community in a way which will attract more Americans to settle in Binghamton. According to Matt Stieb, Chas Danner and Margaret Hartmann from New York Magazine, of the sales tax revenue earned by New York State, “9 percent will go to the state — of which 40 percent will go to fund education, 40 percent will go to support communities of color that have suffered the most from the war on drugs and 20 percent will go to fund anti-addiction efforts. The other 4 percent of the sales tax will go to local governments.” Additionally, towns and cities that elect to allow cannabis businesses “will be entitled to 75 percent of the local share of the sales tax, with the remaining 25 percent going to the county.” The money brought in by both Binghamton and Broome County will offer the community a treasure trove of local investments, something which is desperately needed.
The introduction of recreational cannabis sales into the city of Binghamton will without a doubt spark development of cannabis businesses, nurseries and dispensaries in the area, drawing consumers from all corners of the Southern Tier. It has never been more of a perfect time to introduce legal cannabis into Binghamton’s economy. According to MamasGanja.com, 91 percent of Broome County residents support medical marijuana legalization, and “59 percent support full legalization of the plant and its products.” Local businesses offer a chance to create a strong number of new jobs for local residents — jobs which are much more organic, community-sourced and economically friendly than jobs being brought over by large corporations and chains. Opportunities for both recent graduates and local residents will inevitably arise from the need to farm, process, operate, distribute and sell cannabis-related goods, as well as other industries which are necessary in the cannabis cultivation process, such as those related to public policy, finance, construction, biology and marketing. According to a date report by New Frontier, it is predicted that the impact of federally legal marijuana and nationwide legalization could generate 1 million jobs by 2025. Evidently, cannabis legalization is proven to improve the economic landscape of a region if properly harnessed.
Upstate New York and the city of Binghamton are perfect examples of areas which are bound to become pioneers in the world of marijuana production. Farms and processing facilities producing hemp and cannabis are already popping up in the Binghamton area, pointing to as to why Binghamton is the perfect contender in this up and coming industry. Castetter Cannabis Group is a local, Binghamton-based company which operates one of the area’s most notable functioning hemp processing and manufacturing plants, at the same time conducting ongoing analysis and research on marijuana public policy and advocacy. Empire Standard, a company run by the same individuals at the Castetter Cannabis Group, conducts hemp extract processing and production. With these local entrepreneurs already in place, who knows what legalization can bring to Binghamton and beyond.
New York State is already home to about 700 cannabis growers. However, most of these businesses only grow industrial hemp, “a relative of marijuana that does not have the same level of THC, which provides the marijuana ‘high.’” Of the 700, many of them, besides licensed medical providers, solely work with this form of hemp. While hemp is technically a variety of the cannabis sativa plant we all know and love as traditional marijuana, it can only be processed into ingestible products such as CBD, or cannabidiol, which does affect us similar to how THC would. Despite this, legalization opens a number of doors for these businesses. By producing cannabis meant for recreational use, these companies can begin to satisfy consumers along with ever-growing demand for recreational marijuana, filling their pockets with profit and our pockets with fresh, organic, locally based bud. The room for expansion and innovation in regards to upstate marijuana is truly incredible. According to Don Cazentre of NYUpstate.com, the new law, for example, “will allow for cannabis ‘microbusinesses,’ which will be able to grow and produce marijuana and allow consumption onsite, similar to farm breweries and wineries with their tasting rooms.” Forget about wine tour, weed tasting could be the future of BU traditions.
There is absolutely no doubt that the University will provide the local community with a great deal of demand and business when it comes to cannabis. Binghamton, however, would benefit even more from the legalization of recreational marijuana if the substance is allowed, in small quantities, on campus for possession and consumption, non-smoking, for students over the age of 21. As it currently stands, rule number three of the Binghamton University Code of Student Conduct restricts the “possession, personal use or purchasing of marijuana.” However, the University currently has no plans to change this policy — at least not publicly.
Yet now that New York State has legalized something which is both less lethal and physically harmful than alcohol, it is time for the University to play catch up and change their policies to reflect those of the state. It would be hypocritical of the University to tolerate alcoholic beverages within dorms while banning the possession of marijuana. It is undeniable that alcohol leads to more injuries, deaths, hospitalization and flat-out bad ideas when compared to cannabis use. Why continue to disallow a potentially beneficial substance when the state has already made the decision to legalize such a substance? Allowing for it would make it easier for students looking to use marijuana to do so safely, and would increase the economic potential marijuana has to offer to the local community.
One last stipulation provided by the new piece of legislation which is important to address is the manner in which the law recognizes the effect that marijuana illegality has had on historically underrepresented communities. According to Cazentre, the NYS will set a goal of awarding “50 percent of the new business licenses in the cannabis industry to ‘social equity’ applicants, which the law defines as those from ‘communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.’ In addition to minority- and women-owned businesses, it will also include disabled veterans and financially distressed farmers.” Truly, this is the least the government can do to make up for years of social injustice brought about by unwarranted incarcerations driven by discriminatory drug laws. Even recently, a “Black Children Matter” rally was held in Recreation Park, organizing local community leaders and residents in a demonstration against the manner in which policing and police violence affects children. It is no secret that social justice is still an incredibly prevalent and pressing issue in the overall Binghamton community, and it is refreshing to see the way in which this new law addresses said issue.
New York’s recent legalization of recreational cannabis offers high potential to both the local community and campus. With a proven track record, it is undeniable that marijuana legalization has strong economic effects on regions that embrace cannabis. Binghamton, a city which is already home to a number of small-scale cannabis producers, has the opportunity to reinvigorate and reinvent itself as a national leader in cannabis business. By legalizing marijuana, New York state will now begin to provide upstate communities which much-needed economic growth, racial justice and good times for all of us. Frankly, it’s only a matter of time the rest of the country does the same. It is difficult to tell if and when this will happen, but don’t worry — I have high hopes.
David Hatami is a junior double-majoring in political science and business administration.