Two Fridays ago, Just Breathe opened its doors as the first legal cannabis dispensary in New York outside of NYC. Owner Damien Cornwell, a local production studio owner and partner with the Broome County Urban League, was one of only 36 people granted dispensary licenses by the state this past November. Just Breathe’s opening represents a milestone for the state of New York, coming with a wealth of potential financial, safety and social benefits for Binghamton.

Cornwell has noted that dispensaries offer opportunities for economic growth in cities like Binghamton, which have been in economic decline. When marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012, financially devastated cities like Pueblo saw their economies injected with tens of millions of dollars. In 2021, the 21 states that allowed for legal personal consumption of marijuana saw tax revenue more than double from 2019, as well as increases in job growth. Additionally, legalization offers community members like Cornwell the opportunity to become business owners.

In addition to the economic benefits that dispensaries can bring to communities, buying marijuana from a legal dispensary greatly reduces the risks associated with its consumption. When marijuana is untested or unlabeled, buyers can be victim to lacing, which can expose users to harmful substances like lead or synthetic cannabinoids, which often have a stronger effect on the brain than marijuana — and can be dangerous or even life threatening. The marijuana sold at licensed dispensaries are subject to a series of quality assurance regulatory standards for production, manufacturing and advertising by the state.

Although marijuana legalization does not address the past criminalization of marijuana, which has disproportionately impacted Black communities, we hope that entering a new chapter of marijuana sale and use will prevent future harms. Just Breathe begins a progression of legalization and attempts to correct past criminalization, such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. In an area like Broome County, which has long had one of the highest incarceration rates in the state, we are happy to see that arrests for drug misdemeanors, which have made up a disproportionate amount of misdemeanor arrests in the county over the last decade, have been decreasing since their peak in 2017. Although we can’t attribute this directly to the 2021 recreational legalization of marijuana, we are excited by the positive correlation. Moreover, as dispensaries begin to pop up in the state, the de-stigmatization of marijuana sale and use is likely to follow.

Just Breathe is representative of a new decade of marijuana sale and use, and we welcome it. We hope that Just Breathe brings economic growth and de-stigmatization to the community, and we are eager to see the business thrive. It has been a long time coming to move away from marijuana regulation, but we hope to see more effort to provide reparations to harmed communities.