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Foss: Marijuana listening tour a fine idea

Foss: Marijuana listening tour a fine idea

Foss: Marijuana listening tour a fine idea
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Photographer: Gazette file photograph

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a series of "listening sessions" on marijuana, which the state Department of Health has recommended legalizing for recreational use. 

"Community input is critical as we work to draft balanced and comprehensive legislation on a regulated marijuana program in New York," Cuomo said, in a statement. "...We look forward to hearing what New Yorkers in every corner of the state have to say." 

It's easy to mock these earnest-sounding quotes, but I come to praise the governor's marijuana listening tour, not bury it. 

For one thing, the tour really is extensive. 

There are 15 listening sessions planned, in communities throughout the state. 

The first will be held Wednesday in Albany, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Albany Capital Center. Other sessions are planned for Queensbury, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Utica and Watertown, among other places. 

All of which sounds great to me. 

I love the idea of state officials going out into the wilds and listening to people express their thoughts on legalizing marijuana. 

In a state where important matters are routinely decided behind closed doors, by three men in a room, the listening tour concept feels like a breath of fresh air. 

I'm so enamored with the idea I can't help but wonder why the governor doesn't sponsor a listening tour whenever he's considering a big sweeping change in public policy. 

Why is marijuana the only topic to receive this unusual treatment from the Cuomo administration? 

Why not fracking, or gun control, or criminal justice reform? Why not casino gambling or economic development or education or corruption in state government? 

I can think of any number of issues where the governor and other state officials might benefit from listening to New York residents voice their opinions and offer ideas and proposals of their own. 

If listening sessions are a smart way to approach legalizing pot and creating a regulated market for it, then maybe they're a smart way to approach fixing our dysfunctional state government or improving our schools. 

Hearing what people have to say about, I don't know, college affordability or the rising cost of housing might give policy-makers insight into how these important matters impact the people they govern. 

It's easy to speculate about why the governor is launching a marijuana listening tour. 

Perhaps he wants to give at least the appearance of considering a wide range of viewpoints on a controversial subject, or engage in small d-democracy -- a rarity in New York. 

All I know is that these listening sessions offer a rare opportunity for people to greet state officials on their home turf and tell them what they think about one of the most pressing issues of the day. 

And, I, for one, am interested in hearing what people have to say. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.   

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