Local governments have until the end of the year to opt out of allowing newly legal marijuana dispensaries within their borders, but we hope they won’t do that.
The state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, signed into law March 31, authorizes marijuana shops, but gives municipalities until Dec. 31 to decide they won’t be allowed. If they don’t opt out by then, the businesses can move in as long as they are in compliance with local zoning regulations.
There are likely to be emotional appeals from those who want to block the new businesses because, for some reason we do not understand, marijuana use continues to be vilified while alcohol use is accepted as part of mainstream society.
That double standard will fade in time, but it’s bound to be with us for a while.
It would be shortsighted to throw away the opportunity to fill storefronts and gain sales tax revenue in our communities. There are people who want to purchase marijuana and there are people who want to supply it. Our state has determined that such transactions — as well as recreational use of marijuana — are legal. Our leaders should get over a century of artificial stigma and get a piece of that action on behalf of their communities.
Fortunately, rash decisions now won’t lock communities out of the lost tax revenue forever. Those that do opt out could still change their minds later and get involved with the cannabis program.
There are legitimate questions about how public use of marijuana will be regulated, but the framework already exists in laws governing public use of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
As reported by CNHI’s Joe Mahoney last week, an online analysis of the new law posted by the New York Conference of Mayors offers a breakdown of where marijuana smoking is prohibited. For instance, smoking weed is not allowed in places of employment, bars, restaurants, indoor areas with a swimming pool, public transportation terminals, college campuses, including dormitories, daycare centers, and group homes for youths.
The conference also explains the law bars employers from discriminating against individuals based on marijuana use, though it does permit people to be disciplined or fired if other laws or regulations mandate such actions or if the employee is impaired on the job.
Just like alcohol.
The state law also allows for the licensing of on-site marijuana consumption lounges. Local governments that decide to ban retail dispensaries can also keep out the lounges, but they would have to act by Dec. 31. Again, we hope they won’t do that.
A state Cannabis Control Board would be empowered to issue the licenses for the consumption establishments. The board could consider such factors as impacts on traffic, parking and the noise that would be generated at such businesses. Between that board and existing building and zoning codes, marijuana-based businesses can be regulated to cause no more problems than any other business operating within the law.
The legalization of marijuana was long overdue and we applaud the state for doing the right thing. We hope local governments won’t shortchange themselves by attempting to thwart that effort.