Residents of Poughkeepsie, New York must go to neighboring communities to buy legal medical cannabis. Photo: Wikimedia commons.
It is very exciting that New York legalized adult-use cannabis. But I cannot help but realize that the state is moving at a slow, crippling pace. This came to my attention after I tried to visit a local medical dispensary in Poughkeepsie, New York.
The Lack of Access to Medicinal Cannabis in my Community
Poughkeepsie is located in Hudson Valley, also known as the quieter part of New York. It comprises of counties such as Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, and Ulster. The region famously known for its historic landmarks and picturesque treasures is now home to a cannabis store, The Be. Hudson Valley. The dispensary which is designed to give residents of Hudson Valley access to the consumption of medicinal cannabis.
The closest of The Be.’s stores to my location is the one located in Hudson Valley. After a quick check on Google Maps, I discovered that this dispensary was approximately 11 miles from where I resided. The company does not provide delivery, but in store and pick-up options. Given the distance of this store from Poughkeepsie, it is virtually impossible to smoothly commute without personal transportation. Eleven miles may not sound too far. But the bus ride is two hours for a one way trip — or four for a round trip. That is quite inconvenient to anyone in my community who is looking to benefit from cannabis.
The lack of access to medical dispensaries is quite shocking since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that permitted the use of cannabis for medical reasons in July 2014. He later signed another bill on April 30th, 2021 that permitted recreational cannabis use for those over 21.
Therefore, New York has been “pro weed” for quite some time. I expected a dispensary to be within every major city so that we can have adequate access to cannabis products. It is disappointing and frustrating that Poughkeepsie residents must go to a neighboring town to purchase cannabis.
Addiction is a Major Issue Among Residents of Dutchess County
According to the study on overdose and treatment trends in Dutchess County, “drug overdose rates continue to rise throughout New York State, particularly for overdoses involving heroin and other synthetic opioids.”
“Over the last decade, the total number of overdoses in Dutchess County [where Poughkeepsie is located] more than doubled.” According to the study, there was “[…] a 192% increase in overdoses involving heroin since 2010.”
Moreover, the county experienced the highest rate of fatal heroin overdose in the state from 2009‐2013, the authors wrote.
Cannabis, however, has proven to be an exit drug away from such substances.
For instance, Gary Cardot who struggled with opioid addiction, tells The Boston Globe that cannabis helped him curb his addiction and relieve emotional pain.
“I felt guilty,” he says. “But even just that first dose changed the way I was thinking.”
Chatham police chief, Peter Volkmann, also tells The Boston Globe that many use cannabis as an outlet to treat opioid addiction.
“As we’ve filled in a gap to get people into treatment, we now need to address the gap that happens after,” he says. “Marijuana absolutely has a place in treatment, especially for pain.”
A study titled Emerging Evidence for Cannabis’ Role in Opioid Use Disorder echoes Volkman’s view:
“The primary use for both prescription opioids and cannabis is for analgesia. Currently, up to 90% of patients in state-level medical cannabis registries list chronic pain as their qualifying condition […]. In an exhaustive review, the National Academies of Science and Medicine recently confirmed the efficacy of cannabis for chronic pain in adults. [W]hen given access to cannabis, individuals currently using opioids for chronic pain decrease their use of opioids by 40–60% and report that they prefer cannabis to opioids.”
Additionally, researchers state that CBD is particularly effective at curbing heroin withdrawals.
Dispensaries Improve Communities
That in mind, dispensaries can change negative perspectives and facilitate changes in behavior.
For example, The Boston Globe highlights a study by Regional Science and Urban Economics which suggests dispensaries contribute to lower crime rates.
“Although crime in nearby counties fell by 0.2 percent between 2013 and 2014, crime rates in Denver itself increased by 1.7 percent — except in neighborhoods that gained dispensaries,” The researchers wrote. “We find that adding a dispensary to a neighborhood (of 10,000 residents) decreases changes in crime by 19 percent relative to the average monthly crime rate in a census tract.”
In the CBS Sacramento report, Marijuna Dispensaries Make Neighborhoods Safer, Matt Z-berg, dispensary owner, illustrated how he believes dispensaries contribute to safer communities.
“Neighborhoods without legal pot, go to pot,” says Z-Berg, noting that without legal options, consumers buy from illicit dealers.
When asked about whether or not he’s had any incidents, he says no. He also says that, thanks to the requirement for on-site security, dispensaries like his bring “more safety to the community that you’re operating in,” he tells CBS Sacramento.
Dispensaries provide a safe medium for patients to buy weed. Whenever patients are removed from an environment that facilitates healthy drug use, it’s easier to develop negative relationships with substances. But, if they have access to education, they can use cannabis in a responsible, healthy manner. The most important goal of any well-regulated medical cannabis initiative is to ensure that patients can easily access it while preserving their health and upholding the law. When that goal is accomplished, it is easier for patients to behave in a responsible manner while utilizing the plant.
It Should be Easier to Access Legal Cannabis
If Gov. Cuomo gave New Yorkers the greenlight to utilize the plant; there is no reason why I should not be able to easily access medical cannabis because my community refuses to make it readily available. I want to be able to enjoy it in tea before bed and to bake brownies with it. There is no reason why I should have to take a four hour bus ride when drugs like tobacco and alcohol are well within my reach at the nearest bar and pharmacy.
At this point, even dangerous, illegal drugs are easier to obtain than legal cannabis.