Friday, March 29, 2019. A bright sunny, still chilly day in New York yesterday, with temps in the low 50s, and high 40 after nightfall
Hot topic. Last week, JH and I had a long overdue lunch with David Holland and his wife Melanie Seymour Holland. Melanie is a PR guru here in New York whom we’ve worked with for a long time, and David, besides being our friend also happens to be Counsel to the New York Social Diary.
Besides catching up on various business fronts that goes with old friends and associates, conversation soon morphed into what was happening with Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal to legalize Marijuana New York State. I learned something. For good reason: David is an authority on the subject of cannabis. He is not only a litigation attorney, but also the Executive and Legal Director of Empire State NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws).
He spent more than a decade addressing legal issues involving marijuana with the famous attorney, the late Michael Kennedy and High Times Magazine. Besides his involvement in public policy issues, Michael Kennedy is probably most famous to New Yorkers for representing Ivana Trump and overturning the one-sided prenuptial agreement at the heart of her divorce from Donald in 1992. The divorce provided another media heyday. However, Michael was also very successful in a wide array of public and constitutional matters involving the law.
David Holland definitely shared similar interests with Kennedy in constitutional and social issues. Together they pursued cutting edge strategies and significant legal victories. So it wasn’t surprising to me when the conversation turned to the New York State legislature’s upcoming vote on this coming Monday, April 1st addressing the legalization of marijuana for adult use.
There are 9 states which have already legalized adult use cannabis. As most people may know, cannabis is the name of the same plant which has been divided into two categories: Hemp and Marijuana. They both contain, among a variety, two different compounds called Cannabinoids, namely, CBD and THC. The latter is the one that gets you high and is found in marijuana plants. Hemp contains a only a very small percentage of THC and a larger percentage of CBD — which has anti-inflammatory and healing qualities that have already become quite popular and even now sold in all 800 CVS stores. Marijuana contains a higher percentage of the THC, and for the time being is illegal in New York.
David Holland is an expert on its history, legally and not. At lunch he was laying out the case. The law has not been effective ever — which everyone can agree. It has not been effective in its stated purpose of stopping or curbing marijuana use in New York State. Or anywhere else for that matter. Instead, pot prohibition, like Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s only spawned enormous popularity and, as David put it, “the growth of an illicit industry — has been disproportionately enforced in communities of color, and has been fiscally irresponsible.”
I didn’t know that. I always thought of hemp as some kind of rope not dope! It was used on the farm of my brother-in-law’s family, whatever it was used for. This was a century ago. I can’t imagine my brother-in-law’s Auntie Tine ever thought of it as anything but that. The only thing she knew, had an opinion about, was something they called “hooch.” This was from Prohibition, of course, long before my time. Gin, Whiskey, Ale, all illegal and all just “hooch” to Auntie Tine. Who evidently never touched the stuff, which she’d related with a little bit of a giggle which could make you think she was still wrestling with giving it a “try.”
This act being voted on Monday — Passage of the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA) is contained in Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2019-2020 budget bill would be a tremendous economic boon to the Empire State. This legislation will basically regulate the distribution and use of marijuana and marijuana products similar to the way alcohol and tobacco are regulated.”
However, the other day I read that the State of Colorado has been enriched by hundreds of millions derived from the sales tax on Cannabis for both medical use and for pleasure. I asked David what the general consensus was in New York around marijuana possession.
In his genial lawyer-like way, David repeated a recent Quinnipiac poll, “ …65% of New Yorkers support marijuana possession for personal use and, 59% favor legalized sale of it in their own neighborhoods.”
Interesting. So they can buy some in public. No secrets.
“And what about the ‘just say no’ and the ‘marijuana is a gateway drug’ crowd?”
“Irrational fears unsupported by science,” he said off-hand. “Yes, cannabis is not completely without certain risks and health concerns…but as compared to already legal alcohol and tobacco, the science and statistics show that the society’s benefits from legalization far outweigh the risks.”
David added that “medical marijuana programs and adult use regulations exist in nearly 2/3 of all the United States.” With liberalization of state laws will come increasing ability to research and study the cannabis plant, and the hundreds of beneficial cannabinoid compounds found in it.” Otherwise taxes take the rap. Colorado’s the living proof. Illinois is bankrupt. The same is now being said about other states closer to home. For those living in Colorado, it’s a sensible financial solution.
The Michael’s lunch conversation amidst the melee of chatter and activity is rarely as “academic” as ours that day. Naturally, the conversation turned to the opioid epidemic.
“No greater scourge. Tens of thousands of OD-ing and death each year,” David pointed out. “there has never been an overdose death from marijuana. In fact, marijuana has been proven to be a successful mechanism to opioid addicts kick that often fatal addiction.”
That’s the first I’d heard of that. Laughter followed. No, seriously. “Adult use under the CRTA will give wider access to those in immediate need of its therapeutic effects that otherwise may die.
I couldn’t help being reminded of a book I reviewed on these pages a few years ago by Douglas Miller, “Supreme City; How the Jazz Age in Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America.” It’s basically the same story, the history of Manhattan in those years that began a century ago. Everything changed, the mores, the folkways, the fashions, and they drank like crazy. And all illegally. Mayor Jimmy Walker (the most beloved mayor in New York City history) was a part of that scene and a part of its ending which came with the Great Crash and Depression that followed. Everything changed except our behavior. It adjusted. Time repeating.
JH, always with his eye out for common sense and stable behavior in the neighborhood, asked David about the “potential employment opportunities” that will come with the passing of the act.
“New York’s economy will see significant job creation, investment opportunities, and tax revenue promoting community reinvestment, infrastructure, and restorative justice programs which are at the heart of the CRTA.”
“What if it’s voted in and a lot of people don’t like it?” There will be a rise in licenses and permits issued. But, the Act allows counties and large cities that do not wish to engage in this economic “green rush” to opt out of the program.
And they lived happily ever after, I was thinking. Or at least after dinner.
After lunch and legal epic of Cannabis in New York State, JH wonder what was for dessert? Peppermint tea for the table. (I had the cappuccino, and there was the excellent Michael’s cookie tray.)
David reminded us that the cannabis plant has been used by many cultures for thousands of years. “So, don’t fear the reefer!” I’ve learned from our conversation that these ancient cultures used the plant for the same healing purposes being sought today.