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Last Word: We Can Learn a Lot From Seeing How the Legal Sausage Gets Made

There are certain things you don’t want to see getting made — sausage and legislation generally come to mind — but one problem with not watching how laws are crafted is that you end up with idiotic crap like this, from the Albany Times-Union

Unlike run-of-the-mill prescription drugs, (in New York) you won’t be able to pick up medical marijuana at the corner drugstore.

The state’s program calls for five licensed operators, each with a growing operation and four dispensaries to serve the entire state. By contrast, there were 5,398 pharmacies and 142 drug manufacturers statewide as of Jan. 1, according to state data.”

Only 5 legal operators in New York state?

Yes, you read that right. New York, a state with nearly 20 million people, only allows a handful of licensed medical marijuana operators and four dispensaries to serve the entire state.

The Times-Union story notes that state of Arizona, by contrast, has a law that allows for 125 dispensaries in a state with a population of 6.7 million.

In addition, the newspaper points out that the state of New York will be the only legal marijuana state to have the price set by the state. It says:

If other states with market rates are an indication of what the drug might cost in New York, things could get expensive. Last fall in Connecticut, customers were complaining of high prices that were driving them back to underground suppliers. According to the Hartford Business Journal, prices last September were about $16 to $20 per gram. As of Sunday, the price for edibles — foods are not allowed under the New York program, oils for certain types of administration are — were selling between $27 and $150 at one Hartford-area dispensary. At another in Bethel, not far from the New York border, edibles ranged from $30 to near $100, depending on the grade of the marijuana. “You want to make sure that the cost of any of the medicines is not cost-prohibitive to the patient,” Gabriel Sayegh (of the Drug Policy Alliance) said. “That includes making sure that the cost of marijuana products are not far more costly than they are on the illicit market.”

Avoiding the heavy-handed approach

I know states are struggling as they try to codify their marijuana laws — Oregon is going though the process right now, and the state of Washington has been trying to adjust their regs on the fly — but legalization won’t work if government tries to take an overly heavy-handed approach.

Many others are making this very point. For example:

  • From The Boston Globe — “Should Massachusetts eventually legalize marijuana completely, it shouldn’t spawn another regulatory monster in the process … Anyone should be able to grow or sell legalized marijuana, subject to whatever taxes and age requirements the state enacts.”
  • From the Las Vegas Review-Journal — “A word of caution to the (Henderson City) council as it takes up the licensing process: The goal should be getting this highly effective drug into the hands of the sick, not enriching city coffers. If the city’s fees are too high, the dispensaries will have to recover those costs through higher prices, which will send the sick to street dealers who don’t pay taxes. Regulation of medical marijuana is good. Over-regulation invites unintended consequences and holds back a potential new industry before it even starts.”

This is good advice. I get why states want to impose strong regulations on legal marijuana, particularly the need to make it respectable for those who aren’t crazy about the idea. And, regulation (including some level of taxation) makes legalization appealing to government entities that seem unable to avoid an opportunity to generate additional revenues

Loosening this reins

But too many restrictions don’t help to regulate marijuana — they strangle it before any social benefits can kick in.

This, in a nutshell, is why New York State needs to loosen the reins, because five licensed operators for a state of 20 million people doesn’t do anybody any good.

Gabe Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance agrees. He tells the Times-Union:

There are 23 jurisdictions with medical marijuana passed right now. The country of Canada, the country of Israel both run federal medical marijuana programs … This is not a new thing. It’s complicated, but it’s not rocket science. It can be done. We’ll see what the state does here.”

Yes, it’s NOT rocket science. Regulating marijuana shouldn’t be that hard.

And, it’s important we should pay close attention to what New York does with their legalization law. If they can fix what appears to be a terribly unwieldy and poorly constructed regulatory structure, it may encourage other states and municipalities to spend a little more time — and perhaps get their laws right the first time around.

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