Opting out of marijuana sales would be a wasted opportunity

For local town and village officials wringing their hands, trying to decide whether to opt out of issuing licenses for marijuana sales and on-site consumption in their municipalities, we have three words.

Take the money.

It’s not dirty money. As of March 31, recreational marijuana is now legal in New York state for people 21 years or older, just like other vices such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, which are sold in a variety of locations throughout our communities. Marijuana would only be sold at licensed dispensaries.

There will be a 13% tax on sales of marijuana products — giving a 3% cut to municipalities and 1% to counties. That money could be useful when times are tough. And let’s face it, when it comes to funding local government, times are always tough.

We understand that for many elected officials, this decision has become a moral one. Most of those serving were raised in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s — some in the ’90s. We were told that drugs — especially the “gateway drug” of marijuana — were bad. “Just say no,” former first lady Nancy Reagan said during the nation’s War on Drugs. Many upstanding citizens bought into the message. That’s what we taught our kids and grandkids.

But now, government officials are saying marijuana is OK? Not just for medicinal purposes, but for recreation? It sounds ludicrous, but that’s exactly what they’re now saying.

New York was the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. The first was Washington state on Dec. 6, 2012, followed by Colorado four days later. Other states followed: Alaska, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and New York. That doesn’t include Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. The states of New Mexico and Virginia will follow by July 1.

In January 2014, Colorado became the first state to sell recreational marijuana products, with total sales to date of $10,333,435,545 as of the end of February, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The sales in 2020 were $2,191,091,679. The total tax revenue collected in Colorado since 2014 was $1,698,853,703, as of the end of March.

Let’s look at the decision facing town and village officials. To opt-in, they do nothing. To opt-out, they pass a local law saying so by Dec. 31. They may believe it’s a moral choice, but we think it’s really a business decision.

What will happen if the village of Lake Placid or the towns of North Elba, Jay, Keene or Wilmington opt out of issuing marijuana sales licenses? No sales = no tax revenue. Furthermore, as a tourist destination, with people visiting from around the globe, an opt-out means it will be more difficult for visitors to find marijuana while they’re on vacation. And that’s inconvenient for our guests, not to mention our local citizens and taxpayers. They’ll have to travel to get their weed, and that’s not very hospitable.

That doesn’t mean we allow marijuana use in public places. Go ahead, pass a law prohibiting marijuana smoking in public places, just like the open-container law for alcoholic beverages. That makes total sense, and it continues to give our region a family-friendly atmosphere.

But don’t think that banning marijuana sales is a win for morality. State legislators in Albany and Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the moral decision for the rest of us when they legalized recreational marijuana use. Even if an opt-out law is adopted, it’s still legal to use it. And, just like making your own beer or wine at home, it will still be legal to grow a certain number of cannabis plants at home.

In the long run, when we’re all gone, the younger generations would most likely reverse any opt-out laws in the state anyway. After all, this is the new normal. They’ll never hear the “Just say no” slogan. They’ll never know about Nancy Reagan. They’ll just be asking why some old-timers decided not to take the money.