New York Marijuana Lobby is High on Big Promises

By Dr. Kevin Sabet | August 20, 2020

If you listen to weed legalization advocates these days, you’d think the green stuff was the exception to the old adage “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Promising everything from massive amounts of state tax revenue to social justice, the New York marijuana lobby is high on big promises, but low on actual evidence.

On average, tax revenue from marijuana sales accounts for less than one percent of the state budget where the drug has been commercialized. And these states have not seen the boon they were promised by industry pushers. In Colorado, for example, it was initially suggested that pot tax revenue would be the cure-all for serious budgetary problems, specifically education funding. Colorado teachers recently went on strike, and with the pandemic things have only gotten worse.

In fact, marijuana-legal states are asking the federal government for $1 trillion in aid. So much for the great pot boon. Even pro-legalization State Senator Liz Krueger, the lead sponsor of the marijuana bill in Albany, recently threw water on this argument stating legalization “wouldn’t give us any revenue…it would actually cost us money to get started up…I always want to be careful not to either over inflate the possibilities of a pot of gold of revenue…”

Of course, some New Yorkers will rake it in. Wall Street stands to profit, for sure, and Big Tobacco is salivating.

As any businessperson knows, revenue isn’t the only thing that matters. Costs do too. And marijuana comes with plenty of them: in the form of marijuana- impaired traffic deaths; marijuana-related hospitalizations and poison control center calls; costs to the workforce, just to name a few.

And there are the emotional costs. What amount of revenue would console the family and friends of the tragic limo crash in Schoharie likely caused by a stoned driver?

What about social justice? Turns out that is smoke and mirrors, too.

Time after time we have seen the empty promises of equity made by pot industry supporters. Just this year, the ACLU found that racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates continue in states with “legal” marijuana. Furthermore, the data shows the marijuana industry is overwhelmingly white-owned, largely comprised of white employees, and disproportionally located in communities of color and low income.

Finally, were not talking about legalizing the 5% THC Woodstock weed from the past. Today’s pot is used in candies, gummies, vape pens, and concentrates known as dabs – which all commonly contain upward of 99% THC. We know from decades of research that even 5% THC is linked to serious mental health issues such as IQ loss, depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia and psychosis. Researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to the effects of high potency pot, but it doesn’t look good.

Opposing the expansion of Big Pot is not some crazy, fringe idea. It has stalled in Albany because of bipartisan opposition, and it’s a position shared by the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. The former vice president understands marijuana legalization is about nothing more than a return on investment for the likes of Big Tobacco, alcohol conglomerates, and Big Pharma.

Finally, we’ve been told to do this because our Garden State neighbors may vote this way in November. But since when did what they do in New Jersey trump our own common sense and independence?

Jersey can have its pot. I’d rather not fall for the lies of Big Tobacco.

Dr. Kevin Sabet is former three-time White House Senior Drug Policy Advisor, serving the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations. He currently serves as president & co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and its New York affiliate, SAM New York. He is a resident of Manhattan.