B y Dan King

Bearing his “Vote Hemp” coffee mug at last week’s Washington County Board of Supervisors meeting, Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff encouraged his colleagues to turn down extra funds in the war against marijuana.

“With the looming heroin epidemic, I’m very disappointed that Richard Nixon’s 1970s war on marijuana is still happening,” Haff told the board.

A resolution brought to the board suggested it amend the budget for the Sheriff’s Department to include a $6,000 “Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression ProgramDana Haff Headshot 2015 Grant.” Those extra funds would be used by the Sheriff’s Department to combat marijuana.

Haff said he felt there were “much better” things that the Sheriff’s Department could be worried about, such as the perceived heroin epidemic in the county. Sheriff Jeff Murphy has referred to Route 4 as “the Heroin Highway,” because of large quantities of heroin coming from Rutland, Vt., into New York and vice versa.

“What we should do is legalize it, regulate it and tax it,” Haff added, referring to marijuana.

Jackson Supervisor Alan Brown and Dresden Supervisor George Gang echoed Haff’s sentiment about legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

When it ultimately came time to vote on using the $6,000 grant to combat marijuana, only Haff voted no, with Brown saying “I don’t care.”

Haff has long been a supporter of medical and recreational marijuana, as well as industrial hemp. He drinks coffee from the “Vote Hemp” mug at every county board meeting. He said he believes that legalizing marijuana could save the Sheriff’s Department a lot of time and money.

A 2010 study titled “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition,” conducted by the CATO Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, estimates that legalizing drugs would save “roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana and $32.6 billion from legalization of other drugs.”

Haff said he felt the tax revenue that comes in from legalizing marijuana would be beneficial.

The CATO study goes on to estimate that “yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco. Approximately $8.7 billion of this revenue would result from legalization of marijuana and $38.0 billion from legalization of other drugs.”

Additionally, Haff spearheaded an effort at the county level to get a medical marijuana growing facility approved by New York State in the town of Jackson. The state ultimately awarded five registered growing facilities and the proposed Jackson facility, at a former mushroom-growing location, did not make the cut.

During those discussions Haff continually pointed to the fact that Washington County ranks last of 57 counties in the state in sales tax revenue as an additional reason to support a growing facility in the county.

Other area municipalities also pledged support for the proposed growing facility, including the towns of Whitehall, Dresden and Hartford.

Medical marijuana in New York will have a hefty excise tax on it, 22.5 percent of which will go to the county where it is grown and another 22.5 percent to the county where it is sold.

Each of the five growing facilities must deal with very strict guidelines. The licenses for a registered growing facility must be renewed every two years by the state, and the licenses require stringent security measures, adequate land for growing, adequate money for operating and a labor agreement.

The state reserves the power to immediately repeal a license if a company does not comply with the rules and regulations.

New York is the 23rd state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, while four of those have also legalized it for recreational use. New York’s law is set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

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