ALBANY — A smattering of opinions offered across the Capital Region this week on legalized marijuana runs the gamut, as one might expect on a polarizing subject.
Some who spoke to The Daily Gazette on Tuesday said they need to see the final version of the law and see how it is implemented before fully understanding it — proposals often change in Albany and the real-world impact is sometimes different from what sponsors predict.
Others held with their previous positions: Marijuana legalization will pose a threat to traffic safety, or will address the inequities produced by decades of arrests of people of color, or will reduce the problems created by illegal marijuana use, or will shortchange localities on tax revenue, or some combination of these.
In a nutshell, the legislation agreed on over the weekend by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speak Carl Heastie would:
- Legalize marijuana use by those over 21 or older for recreational purposes — ie, to get high, as opposed to addressing a medical condition;
- Add a regulatory office within the State Liquor Authority;
- Create a two-tier licensing system to separate growth/production from retail;
- Build in a social and economic equity component to the program to in part benefit communities affected by enforcement of previous marijuana laws;
- Create a complicated tax structure with revenue divided among the state, counties and municipalities;
- Allow municipalities to ban retail sales and on-site consumption of marijuana;
- Study and perhaps create rules on the impact of marijauna-impaired driving, which will remain illegal;
- Allow personal possession and cultivation of smaller quantities of living and processed cannabis;
- Educate the public on risks of marijuana use;
- Expunge criminal records for some marijuana-related convictions;
- Expand the state’s medical marijuana program;
- Eventually create a projected 30,000 to 60,000 jobs and bring in $350 million in annual tax revenue.
Reactions varied to the news:
- NY Cannabis Growers & Processors Association President Allan Gandelman said: “This is a historic moment for the state of New York, and one that will bring with it good jobs, investment, and cutting-edge entrepreneurial opportunity through the creation of an entirely new sustainable and equitable industry.” In January, he had cautioned that Cuomo’s proposed tax structure was bizarre and its effective tax rate was so high that it might allow the illegal market to retain market share. He made no mention of that this week.
- Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza called a special meeting of the Town Board on Wednesday to consider a resolution he will present to opt out of the state legislation. The resolution would prevent businesses located in the town from selling marijuana and would block farms from growing cannabis for distribution for recreational purposes. DiMezza pointed to the quick action locally as an effort to preempt the state law to preserve the character of the community.
- Theory Wellness, which operates a marijuana dispensary just over the state line in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, said it doesn’t know how many of its customers hail from New York and isn’t worried about losing their business to New York dispensaries. “We’re in full support of cannabis legalization in NY and elsewhere. Cannabis access should be granted to all, simple as that,” said Thomas Winstanley, head of marketing.
- State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said he’s in line with the Medical Society, law enforcement community, PTA and construction industry in New York in opposing legalization. “Ultimately, the financial gain for state coffers will never outweigh the economic, social and physical pain of legalization for generations of New Yorkers to come.”
- Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy and a host of other county officials urged the county’s legislative delegation to push for a greater share of tax revenue to go to counties where dispensaries are located, as legalization will lead to increased demand for county services at increased cost.
- The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York urged greater attention to roadway safety in the legislation. “While the defects in New York State’s DWAI laws have existed for years, the problems will be exacerbated by the legalization of marijuana and edibles containing THC. There will soon be many new and odorless ways of ingesting marijuana into your body that will cause observable impairment, but because of the requirement to name the substance, prosecutors will not be able to hold someone accountable who drives under the influence,” said Monroe County District Attorney Sandre Doorly.
- Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said he supports legalization as an improvement over the unregulated, unsafe marijuana market that has long existed in New York, but does not expect a budget windfall, because much of the tax revenue will go toward the increased expenses that will follow legalization. He hasn’t delved into the restorative justice element of the package, but said: “The speaker and majority leader are both African-American and are very strong on these points.”
- Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo deferred comment until he and his fellow sheriffs can see the final legislation and see how it will be implemented. Traffic safety is the biggest concern, he said, followed by the fact that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs. The state has a history of rushing reforms into place without fully appreciating the impact or considering the details, he said, citing the SAFE Act ban on certain firearms and the restrictions imposed on cash bail.
- Nicolle Harris, president of the Schenectady Chapter of the NAACP, said people of color have been disproportionately affected by marijuana laws and said expunging criminal records is a priority for her, along with releasing from prison those still serving long sentences.
- State Sen. Daphne Jordan, D-Halfmoon, said she voted against the measure for a variety of reasons, motorist safety among them: “According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (Internal Medicine), traffic fatalities rose in Colorado since it legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, there have been an additional 75 deaths resulting from traffic accidents, on average, annually.”
- Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith said law enforcement officials have not seen the state legislation and he was unable to offer an opinion on its potential impact. He added that officers are responsible for enforcing the laws that are on the books and will look to review the bill and adapt upon its passage.