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Marijuana advocate eyes constitutional convention

Other matters also bubble up

NEW YORK CITY, NY — The recreational use of marijuana has been approved by seven states, and in each of those cases, the law has been passed by a voter referendum rather than by lawmakers via the legislative process. In states like New York and Pennsylvania, which have no mechanism for voter referenda, there seems little chance that recreational marijuana will become legal any time soon. But there is a group of so-called “influential cannabis industry leaders” who are hoping to take the question directly to the voter via the process of the constitutional convention.

This November, as voters are choosing their town supervisors, board members and other officials, they will also be asked whether New York State should hold a constitutional convention. If a majority of voters say “yes,” delegates to the convention will be elected in 2018, and a constitutional convention will be held in 2019. During the convention, it is possible that the question of legal recreational use of marijuana will be raised, and that is certainly the aim of Jerome Dewald, 66, a New York City venture capitalist who is spearheading the effort.

He says on his webpage (tinyurl.com/ybvekg8r), “In January this year, I formed a group of 18 influential cannabis industry leaders from the business, investment and political action space to pursue this pathway to a constitutional amendment legalizing adult-use cannabis in NY and repairing New York’s dysfunctional medical marijuana law…

“Our Political Action Committee ‘Restrict & Regulate in NY State 2019’ (RRNY) was registered in Albany in February and launched on social media the first week of March as @LegalWeed4NY. To be clear, the 18 members of the group are not formally members of the Political Action Committee. They are advisers and observers with varying levels of commitment, but they are all committed to the goal of legalizing adult-use cannabis in NY State....”

Dewald and his associates plan to have representatives at summer festivals and other events that would be attended by millennials to build support for the constitutional convention. According to a recent poll, only about 33% of the voters in the state are aware that the question of a constitutional convention will appear on the ballot this year.

Other initiatives bubble up

Marijuana legalization is only one of several causes whose advocates hope to address through the constitutional convention. One such cause getting the most attention is the ethical behavior of elected officials in Albany. There are many ways that reformers would address ethics; one would be the so-called LLC loophole that allows Limited Liability Corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to legislative and gubernatorial races in the state, a matter which the governor and legislature have so far been unwilling to move on.

One of the more radical changes that has been suggested is to have the legislature changed from a two-body organization to a body with just one, or a unicameral organization. The argument goes that before 1960, the senate districts were based on territory, while the assembly seats were based on population. But these days the districts of both houses are based on population, so there is no longer any defensible reason to have two houses of government.

The idea of a unicameral government would clearly not be popular in the legislature, and the leaders of both houses have already announced their opposition to holding a convention.

Some proponents of the convention say it would be a good way to address healthcare and a way to adopt the New York Health Act, which would do away with health insurance companies and provide comprehensive health care to all state residents. That proposal has been passed by the Assembly, but is being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some argue against holding a constitutional convention because the process will be controlled by the most wealthy and powerful interests in the state. However, supporters believe it’s an opportunity for voters to gain for themselves more power than lawmakers in Albany would ever allow.

 

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