Croton Needs to Prepare for Marijuana Legalization

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
Last year, many members of our community were upset over the opening of a vape shop in Croton. Marijuana retail stores in Croton are not likely to be as controversial as e-cigarette merchants, but the pending legalization of marijuana in Croton is coming at a rapid pace and some legislation and education outreach needs to be done now.

It is time for us to have a conversation and make some decisions about Village laws and policy.

Last week, Senator Schumer not only announced his support for legalization, he autographed a reporter’s personal bong brought to Schumer’s Senate office and said he would sponsor legislation to give federal money for the promotion of marijuana sales as a means of reparations, saying that it is time to “inject real dollars into minority and women-owned businesses to insure those disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization can benefit from the new economy.”

Senator Schumer signing a bong.

Senator Schumer signing a bong.

I personally don’t think that marijuana sellers need government handouts to prosper, but the fact that this is being proposed by the senior elected official of the national Democratic Party indicates how quickly the pot industry is becoming a major political lobby.

In an interview with Vice News broadcast on HBO, Minority Leader Schumer acknowledged that the current Republican majority in the U.S. Senate would block his program. But with the latest national polls giving the Democrats a strong chance of regaining the Senate, Mr. Schumer is a strong candidate for Majority Leader. We may be looking at traveling all the way across the spectrum from federal criminalization to federal government subsidy of marijuana by the end of 2019.

Locally, legalization is even closer. With the defeat of Republicans in New Jersey, incoming Governor Phil Murphy told the Legislature that he wanted to see legalized pot in Jersey by the end of 2018 and he is using a working projection of $60 million in state marijuana tax revenue as part of his upcoming budget.
Regardless of your personal position on marijuana, legalization is inevitable if only because of the huge amounts of money involved. Last week, banking behemoth TD Bank approved their Canada-based investment counselors recommending three marijuana companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and USA Today said that marijuana sales in California alone will be $3.8 billion this year.

New York has been a rare outpost of Democrat opposition to pot. Governor Cuomo has been opposed because he is concerned with the social consequences and possible “gateway drug” issues.

But with our state Assembly being pro-legalization, and with both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and primary opponent Cynthia Nixon coming out in favor of pot, Mr. Cuomo has become isolated on this issue. While Mr. Cuomo’s reelection remains probable, the N.Y. Senate is likely to flip to Democrat control; hence the Governor’s face-saving decision to set up a “task force” to “study” the issue.

While most Croton residents are likely to agree with the pot-legalization advocacy of our Democratic Party elected officials and support the opening of marijuana stores in Croton, there is still a question of Village zoning and the degree of law enforcement monitoring of the stores.

During a recent stay in Denver, I was surprised at the social impact of pot. The public buses reeked of marijuana. On a bus ride back to our hotel from the Denver Zoo, there was a disturbance when one obviously high passenger missed the stop for the “dispensary” and demanded the bus driver pull over to let him out. 

A Colorado tourist official told me that “they came for the pot and stayed for the heroin” and she added that there was concern about the sense of decline and lawlessness in downtown Denver having an effect on tourism. A resident in suburban Highlands Ranch told me that she and her husband don’t go downtown anymore because of the conditions since legalization.

Croton is not Denver, and the impact here is likely to be much less. But one Denver lesson may be applicable to Croton, and that is the ramifications of product mix sold in marijuana retail stores.

Aging hippies in Croton can look back fondly on the days when they would toke a doobie during the Summer of Love. But millennials and teens in 2018 Denver have made “edibles” a majority of sales at some “dispensaries.” In addition, concentration of THC in marijuana products is much greater than it was back in olden times. Overdoses are not a great concern with adults (passage of time will usually cure any symptoms), but children are a different matter.

Children’s Hospital Colorado reports a small but disturbing surge in infants and pre-teens ingesting “edibles” and being treated for respiratory problems, including intubation of a 3 year-old, “continuous positive pressure for respiratory insufficiency” for an 8 month-old infant, and the death of an 11 month-old. Cause of death in the 11 month-old is disputed, but the doctors state that the infant arrived at the ER in an unresponsive state with rapid heartbeat, and a urine drug screen came back positive for high levels of THC. 

Although mainstream media and an increasing number of national politicians dismiss the Denver experience as an anomaly, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper (D) signed the “Gummy Bear” law banning edibles in the shape of animals and fruits. If New York State does not enact such limitations, then the Village of Croton should consider passage of a local law.

In a family town such as Croton, the Colorado experience with “edibles” should be a cause for concern among our parents and teachers. In addition to immediate physiological impacts on infants, there are concerns both due to the effects of THC on teenage brain development, and also due to the use of pot by teens to self-medicate; thereby masking underlying emotional issues that would normally be spotted by parents and teachers.

Our Croton school district leadership needs to decide how to educate students about pot. Many of their students are going to be coming from homes where parents will smoke pot and consume “edibles.” It is going to be difficult if not impossible for schools to convince students that consumption of marijuana is harmful when the students see pot used in their own home or when they visit the homes of classmates.

The DARE curriculum (Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a national drug prevention program used in Croton schools) advises against initiation of marijuana discussion below around sixth grade: “Most students in this age group have no basis of reference to the substance. Research has found that teaching children about drugs with which they have no orientation or real life awareness may negatively stimulate their interest or curiosity about the substance.”

DARE focuses on alcohol and tobacco: “the two most common and dangerous drugs with which elementary aged students have knowledge or familiarities are alcohol and tobacco. Also, these are the substances, across all segments of the population, with the highest use levels within this age group.”

DARE’s curriculum at the high school level stresses resistance to peer pressure, providing data to show that it is socially acceptable to decide not to ingest drugs. Unfortunately, while it is true that consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not actively promoted by parents or politicians, this is no longer the case about marijuana.

No politician would sign a carton of cigarettes or case of beer, but in this state our politicians will autograph a bong. New York politicians are openly enthusiastic about pot, and—in the case of Mr. Schumer—even want to put tax money toward promoting marijuana businesses.

But there are longitudinal studies suggesting impairment of verbal cognitive functions in children, with a direct relationship between age of first use and impact. A New Zealand study concluded that even when high-consuming pot-smoking teens stopped as adults, there was permanent reduction in IQ test scores. 

For obvious reasons, there has not been much research on human in utero exposure; but animal studies show cognitive impairment in adult rats, likely due to effects of THC on development of the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory formation).

Most studies on the effects of THC on brain development have been performed on lab rats. In New York, we are about to embark on a massive experiment with our children as lab rats.

My personal libertarian perspective would normally lead me to join Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand, Ms. Nixon, and other New York politicians in welcoming state-wide consumption of marijuana in all its glorious variants. And I realize that marijuana criminalization no longer has voter support, either nationally or locally. But after observing Denver and speaking with people living there, I am concerned about the impact of the coming legalization here in Croton.

At very least, the Village and the school district should start involving residents and parents in preparing for the coming legalization of marijuana and we should consider whether to pass new zoning laws now, rather than waiting till after the fact.

Paul Steinberg