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Foss: It's OK for Legislature to slow it down

Foss: It's OK for Legislature to slow it down

Foss: It's OK for Legislature to slow it down
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the Reproductive Health Act into law during a ceremony in January.
Photographer: GOV. ANDREW CUOMO/FLICKR

In the early weeks of the legislative session, state lawmakers made passing bills look easy. 

But it's only easy when you're dealing with low-hanging fruit -- with legislation that's easy to marshal support for now that Democrats hold the majority in the Senate. 

Now that the Legislature is considering thornier topics, activity has slowed considerably. 

Legalizing recreational marijuana, which once seemed like a sure thing, is far from certain. Criminal justice reform is up in the air, and whether the Legislature passes tough new lobbying and campaign finance laws remains to be seen. 

Turns out, these are difficult issues, and one-party control of state government doesn't make them any easier to deal with. 

Which isn't a bad thing. 

Every year, there's a frantic push to include high-profile legislation in the state budget, which by law is supposed to be passed by April 1. The legislative session ends in June, but our elected officials like to pretend that any laws not included in the budget are doomed. That's what's happening now, with marijuana reform. 

"Marijuana I believe should pass, will pass," Cuomo said in an interview earlier this month. "If we don't get it done by the budget, it's in trouble." 

This might be true, but it doesn't have to be. 

Nor should it be. 

A number of groups have raised valid and reasonable concerns in response to the movement to legalize marijuana -- concerns that deserve better than a needlessly rushed process. 

I support legalizing recreational marijuana, but it's OK with me if it takes longer than the end of the month to craft a plan that's right for New York. 

When I hear medical professionals express concerns about the impact of legalization on public health, or police officials say they need more tools to fight stoned driving, I worry that our elected officials will pass a legalization bill that fails to address the negative consequences that will result from legalizing pot. 

Beyond that, questions about how best to regulate marijuana -- Cuomo has proposed creating a new Office of Cannabis Management -- and how to spend the revenues from taxing it are unresolved. 

Legalization advocates have criticized Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for saying lawmakers might need more time to get a marijuana bill done. 

But Heastie isn't wrong to say he wants to see legalization done right, or to object to the notion that it must be done as part of the budget, or else. 

The same is true of ethics reform and criminal justice reform -- or any number of bills being considered by the Legislature. 

Every March sees lawmakers behaving more and more like college students near end of term, pulling all-nighters and cramming for exams. 

There's a better way to approach complex matters of policy, and it entails rejecting the arbitrary budget deadline and devoting as much time as needed working out these more complicated issues. There's plenty of time for lawmakers to address these topics -- and don't let anyone tell you any different. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.    

 

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