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The right way to legalize marijuana

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

This editorial first appeared in the NY Daily News.

As leaders of labor organizations representing working New Yorkers, we have seen firsthand how the ongoing pandemic has impacted their lives and the communities in which they live. We know all too well what is at stake, particularly in regard to the future of many of the services working families rely on in both good times and in bad. The reality is, we will be facing the repercussions of this public health and economic crisis long term if we as a state do not take innovative steps to create new avenues for economic revenue, investments in our communities and quality careers. The upcoming legislative session presents us with a unique opportunity to work together to finally pass comprehensive cannabis policy and create a new industry in our state.

After the passage of the Compassionate Care Act legalizing medical marijuana, we saw the creation of several hundred jobs here. Our neighbors in Massachusetts saw the creation of approximately 10,000 new jobs in the first year of their adult-use cannabis market, and Illinois has added 9,000 new jobs since legalizing last year. Here in New York, we could see the creation of approximately 30,000 jobs if adult-use cannabis is legalized.

We are not simply talking about workers employed directly in the adult-use cannabis industry at cultivation facilities and dispensaries or those who take positions at medical cannabis companies. There will be a need for new businesses to support this burgeoning industry, including in construction to build the facilities and dispensaries, companies that provide and maintain equipment, laboratories for testing, as well as various kinds of software, legal, accounting and marketing firms. The future of ancillary businesses in the cannabis sector and the subsequent jobs, frankly, are hard to define as research and development by scientists, universities and cannabis companies could lead us to new medicines and products that are currently unimaginable.

A critical component as we move towards cannabis legalization is prioritizing social, racial and economic equity. We are committed to the creation of a robust and diverse cannabis industry that provides opportunities for those who have been left behind due to the impact of generations of systemic discrimination and overcriminalization.

However, we must ensure that those who are employees of cannabis companies and are contributing valuable work also have an opportunity to succeed. We would be doing workers across our state a disservice if we focused on creating jobs, but not highlighting what those jobs will look like. We have seen that cannabis careers, both in the medical cannabis program here in New York and in the adult-use industry in other states, can and should be full-time positions that offer family-sustaining wages and benefits, as well as guarantee critical workplace protections. It is essential that those employed at every level of this industry are able to access long-term economic security.

Estimates have shown that an adult-use cannabis industry has the potential to generate $300 million in new tax revenue for New York State. This figure, however, does not tell the whole story of what our state stands to gain. According to a report released last year by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the potential economic output from the adult-cannabis industry could be close to $4 billion when ancillary businesses and the full extent of employment are factored in. In states like Colorado, local municipalities have begun to thrive not merely from the revenue generated by direct cannabis sales, but with the creation of new jobs, residents have more money to infuse and reinvest in their local economies.

We recognize that this is just one building block towards our full economic recovery. Yet for those municipalities struggling to provide services for the residents or repair roads or for workers who are looking for an opportunity to provide for their family, this building block could be an essential one. It’s time for New York to take bold action and legalize adult-use cannabis in 2021.

Cilento is the president of the New York State AFL-CIO. Durso is the president of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, which includes medical cannabis workers.