Nothing to Fear: Why New Yorkers should embrace cannabis retail in their neighborhood

By Jordan Isenstadt | September 9, 2020

As a veteran of New York State politics, I’ve known about the NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) phenomenon for nearly my whole career. NIMBYism is usually associated with locals protesting projects like homeless shelters, housing developments, garbage processing facilities, roads, and bike paths landing in their neighborhood, mainly due to the project changing its character in some way. Common arguments claim said projects will increase crime, pollution and noise, and lead to declines in property taxes, quality of life and small business foot traffic.

Unsurprisingly, cannabis dispensaries are the latest entrant to this ever-growing list of NIMBY targets. Legal cannabis is an easy target, despite the vast amounts of public support it receives. While in principle a majority of Americans support legal cannabis, many of those same supporters might prefer that a dispensary not open in their neighborhood. But they’re wrong. Having a cannabis dispensary in your neighborhood is actually an incredibly positive development. Here’s why:


Legal Cannabis Actually Makes Your Neighborhood Safer

It’s a common misconception that legal cannabis dispensaries lead to an increase in local crime and violence. In fact, the exact opposite is true. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Urban Economics found that the closure of dispensaries caused about a 12 percent increase in crime in the surrounding area, leading researchers to conclude that medical marijuana dispensaries actually make neighborhood safers. Additional studies, including one from 2019 published in Regional Science and Urban Economics, have indicated that crime rates drop significantly when states transition from cannabis prohibition to adult-use legalization.


Legal Cannabis Dispensaries Are Very Secure

Among the many reasons neighborhoods become safer when a cannabis dispensary moves in, is the fact that cannabis dispensaries are very safe and secure neighbors. Regulations vary by state, but nearly every state requires cannabis dispensaries to maintain loads of security protocols to protect its customers and its cannabis (not to mention cash – due to federal illegality, all cannabis transactions must be handled in cash). In New York State, cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities are mandated to have perimeter alarms, motion detectors, video cameras, panic alarms, security guards, quality outdoor lighting, vaults to store cannabis and secure doors that can only be unlocked by dispensary personnel. Some states also require dispensaries to install bullet-proof glass and employ 24-hour security guards. As a result, cannabis dispensaries have proven to be very safe and secure locations.


Legal Cannabis Provides for a Safer Purchasing Experience

By giving people a safe, legal place to access cannabis, you eliminate many of the dangerous elements that accompany the illegal drug trade. Even if your drug dealer is as lovable as James Franco from Pineapple Express, it’s important to remember that they sell an illicit, unregulated product, which they likely acquire from illegal cannabis producers on the West Coast or worse yet from smugglers linked to international drug cartels who engage in acts of extreme violence and extortion to fuel the drug trade. Not only is illegal cannabis linked to criminal enterprise, but the cannabis itself is potentially dangerous, as it comes with zero quality controls. That means that you don’t know where the cannabis was grown, if pesticides or chemicals were used, or if it’s been laced with harmful drugs or synthetics.

Many parents express concerns that a dispensary opening in their neighborhood will give children easier access to cannabis. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Legal dispensaries require each individual to show their medical marijuana certification and photo ID on every visit upon check-in. In fact, according to a recently published study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth cannabis usage actually decreased in the nation’s first three states to legalize adult-use cannabis.


Legal Cannabis Supports Your Local Community (and Not Drug Cartels)

When you buy legal cannabis, you’re buying a product that was made in America, legally, meaning you are supporting local jobs and businesses and paying taxes. The cannabis products you purchase in your local dispensary were actually grown and produced in your home state, as mandated by law. Not only that, but cannabis dispensaries are excellent members of local business communities, often contributing to local Chambers of Commerce, nonprofit organizations, sports leagues and other charitable entities. Cannabis dispensaries have a deep desire to be good neighbors in order to dispel some of the myths that have unfairly painted dispensaries as bad actors.


Cannabis is Legal Now 

Let’s be real – there will always be a healthy market for cannabis. Legalization is sweeping through the country with a majority of Americans approving. The country is slowly moving away from the archaic days of making illegal visits to your illegal dealer to buy illegal cannabis. Unlike illegal dispensaries and drug dealers, legal dispensaries follow strict rules and regulations to ensure that they are secure, prevent the sale of cannabis to minors and give back to their community by paying taxes. Regulated, safe access to cannabis will always be better for a community, rather than only providing the option for individuals to access it illegally. Communities and suburbs around the country need to wake up to the realization that legal cannabis is a very positive development, both from an economic and safety perspective.

Contrary to popular belief, the presence of a legal dispensary in your neighborhood is likely to have a positive impact on your community at large. As the industry continues to evolve and grow, it’s critical that this unfortunate and incorrect perception is reversed. Cannabis industry operators and retailers need to tell their story about local alliances forged and activate supportive community stakeholders to support positive narratives. As stigmas about cannabis continue to break down, it’s an opportune moment for communities around the nation to welcome legal cannabis into their neighborhoods.


Jordan Isenstadt is a Senior Vice President at New York City based public relations agency, Marino. Jordan leads a team focused on a burgeoning portfolio of cannabis-focused brands and founded the Cannabis Media Lab, an accelerator for emerging cannabis startups. Prior to his current role, Jordan worked for the New York State Legislature, as well as two New York State Governors. To reach out directly to Jordan, email him at [email protected].