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Wake-up call

Mary Jane's right of passage


Flight or fight? Why does it have to be one or the other when you can choose both?

Yesterday I felt like giving chase and strangling a guy in a Charger who cut me off on the highway at a speed that would have left Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's purported paparazzi pursuers in the dust, had there been any dust on the Grand Central.

Although our cars were close for only a split second, the stench of weed was so acrid it would have seared into the consciousness of the post-decapitated Sir Walter Raleigh and made his head spin. If something could be done about the stink, it would be a terrific public relations coup for weed. Something similar applies to dental drills: if only they could be made to sound like Schubert, instead of a quarry excavator.

Because of my respect for the law, driven in part by an appreciation of the inconvenience I would cause myself by taking matters into my own hands, my thoughts turned from violence to hope that at least the guy's supplier was unionized.

We've come a long way since the intemperance of Reefer Madness propaganda in which weed was depicted as the destroyer of civilizations.

Enlightened attitudes eventually emerge, although typically when it is too late. Often it starts with overcompensation and moderates to a middle ground after deals are sealed, money is made and politicians are, in the words of a former mayoral candidate, "wined, dined and pocket-lined.”

I know people whose switch from prescribed psychotropic medications to medical marijuana was the wisest decision they ever made. It took courage and independence to trust their instincts and the knowledge they acquired from reliable anecdotal accounts and research.

No longer were they unable to lift their feet from the ground. No more fixed, catatonic eyes and flat monotone of voice. They had regained the luster of their personality and re-engaged the tantalization of their uniquely ordained lives.

Even the medical establishment is catching on to the benefits of cannabis. Of course, it must be the right product for the right person under the right conditions. But that's true of every remediation and therapy.

The United Food and Commercial Workers claims to represent tens of thousands of workers in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The entire supply chain in New York State is served by Local 338 RWOSU/UFCW.

New York State began its medical cannabis program in 2015.  

From the beginning, the union has advocated for victims of the prior draconian and discredited laws that effectively rendered low-level marijuana offenders ineligible for participation in society for the rest of their lives. The UFCW has a rare and perhaps unique role: combating the stigma that has dogged cannabis use and followed its consumers like a malevolent halo.

Disproportionately, this impacted persons of color. That fact was an injury. Its calculation added insult. The War on Drugs was false advertising. Wordsmiths make Delta Force look like canasta players.

Criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use were more a tool to keep disfavored people in  line than to protect them from self-harm. Offering preferential licenses to people convicted of breaking the former marijuana statutes may be seen as absurd or brilliant.

It is certainly ironic and some have called it apt reparation. But it has caused plenty of resentment, which generally should be avoided, but not necessarily at all costs.

Carmine Fiore, the former chairman of the Cannabis Association of New York, alleges that he was punished for complaining of the unavailability of licenses for disabled veterans.

The Compassionate Care Act of 2014 was a trailblazing example of compassionate legislation.  Medical marijuana became available for a range of conditions and regulations were promulgated to help people help themselves.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, passed two years ago, "comprehensively regulates" the adult use of recreational marijuana and hemp cannabis. Rules and licenses for businesses are governed by the new Cannabis Control Board, which oversees the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM).

Many have already established name recognition that one may dare mention in polite company. Instead of behind-the-counter baristas, like Starbucks, the cannabis dispensaries have "budtenders.”

When free enterprise goes on a date with the cannabis industry, it is well-advised for there to be a chaperone present. 

The national industry's growth is expected to reach $66 billion by 2025. Nineteen states have legalized adult recreational cannabis and 38 have approved it for medicinal use. Forbes notes that more than 158 million Americans live in a state that has legalized marijuana.

The rapidly burgeoning cannabis industry entices investors who fear that unions will try to rain on their parade by fighting for their members to be treated as professionals with a career, not hourly minimum-wage transient employees.

One can argue the finer points of cannabis legislation, but there is no disputing the necessity of collective bargaining rights for workers: Decent wage guarantees, employer-paid subsidized health care, training and advancement opportunities and retirement programs are entitlements that the market must be made to bear.

OCM claims to administer "a sophisticated quality assurance regulatory structure including standards for production and manufacturing, strict product testing, labeling, packaging and advertising."

Do they?

Then how is it, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), that around 1,500 black markets and shops are thriving in the city and in the extremely rare instance when enforcement action is taken against them, the penalty makes it hard only to cease and desist from laughing. 

The New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association claims that "About 40 percent of cannabis products purchased from 20 illicit stores in New York City were found to contain harmful contaminants such as E. coli, lead and salmonella."

Rolling Stone magazine, referring to "hardball pot politics,” reports that conflicts have arisen over eligibility for licenses to grow and permits for retail marketing of cannabis at fairs and farmers markets. They credit the UFCW for contributing to the climate that has "unleashed a flood of corporate money,” but warns that "For the union to remain legitimate, it will have to figure out how to maintain its track record for workers in this new era of 'Walmartized weed,’ where some owners' only goal is earning maximum profit."

With all the jubilation over cannabis reform, some serious issues have been purged from the radar screen. Blips can be deadly.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times.” Because the government doesn't have a handle on market sources for cannabis products, there can be no reliable standardization of its quality and potency.

Even if there were, individual body chemistry varies and is somewhat unpredictable, and the nature of cannabis assures some limit to levels of tolerance, beyond which there will be impairment of some kind.

To gauge alcohol intoxication, breathalyzers are available for highway patrol. There is no equivalent for cannabis.

Asked which are "articulable symptoms of impairment,” the New York State Department of Labor answers that "there is no dispositive and complete list of symptoms of impairment,” adding that apparent evidence of impairment may be attributable to a disability that is protected by the legal prohibitions against discrimination.

The New York Post says that New York's "legal weed experiment" has been "disastrous”  because its "major focus of social and economic equity" will "benefit those who committed crimes,” and "should have prioritized applicants with a history of entrepreneurship and business acumen … instead of doubling the number of licenses open only to former criminals.”

The unionization of the industry likely doesn't sit well with their editorial board either.

According to Cornell University's Institute of Labor Relations, "New York's Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act requires all applicants for a license to grow, process and manufacture, distribute, deliver or sell cannabis products to enter into and maintain a labor peace agreement with a labor union that either represents, or is trying to represent, that applicant's workers.” 

Marijuana Business Daily alleges that some cannabis dispensaries are "evading worker-friendly licensing requirements by obtaining state business permits after signing deals with 'labor organizations' that appear to be illegitimate 'company unions..’”

Personally, I find the bouquet of weed revolting and some aspects of its regulation and enforcement troubling.

But people like me are just relics of a forgotten haze.


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