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New York officials weigh legal pot

NEW YORK STATE — With Democrats set to take control of the New York State Senate, and with a growing number of states legalizing recreational marijuana, the New York State Assembly is holding a series of four hearings about doing just that, while also taking input from members of the public.

Richard Gottfried, the chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee has said it appears that there is enough support to pass legislation, but questions remain about how much marijuana would be taxed, who will be allowed to sell it and how businesses will be organized.

One point brought up repeatedly at a hearing in Buffalo on November 19, was that African Americans, who have been harmed by marijuana arrests and prosecutions far more than white Americans, should see some of the benefits of legalization.

Mary Kruger, executive director of the Rochester chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said more than 800,000 marijuana arrests were made since possession was decriminalized in 1977, and that many of those arrests have been people of color. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, about 80% of those arrested for marijuana in 2016 in New York state were black or Latino. “We know that people across all races consume cannabis at roughly the same rates,” said Kruger, “and it’s been found that white people actually consume more cannabis.”

She and other justice advocates urge lawmakers to vacate or seal records of low-level possession and sale charges brought in the past. They also push for people who are currently incarcerated for such crimes to be released or have their sentences reduced to time served.

As the issue heats up, on December 11 and 12, the Drug Policy Alliance will bring hundreds of experts from the around the country to Albany for a conference called “Marijuana: Justice, Equity, and Reinvestment.”

“As New York State is on the brink of legalizing marijuana, we are clear that Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and the legislature must build an adult-use program that ensures equity and diversity and reinvests in the communities that were the hardest hit by marijuana enforcement,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act does all of these things. Governor Cuomo and the new Democratic majority need to take action right away.” Cuomo endorsed the legalization of recreational marijuana before the election.

Another issue under consideration is whether individuals should have a right to grow some amount of marijuana in their yards or garden. In a YouTube video addressed to Gov. Cuomo, a woman posting from an account with the name Florencia Ulloa (tinyurl.com/yal87ops) points out that ordinary people, especially those who use cannabis medicinally, should be able to grow their own limited amount of marijuana plants to ensure no chemical pesticides are used on them. The woman, who identified herself only as Anna, said for her there are no marijuana products available in Colorado, which permits sales of recreational marijuana, because all of the products are contaminated with pesticides that her respiratory system cannot tolerate.

If New York lawmakers vote to legalize recreational marijuana in the coming year, it will be the most recent legislation in a national trend. On November 6, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use, and on November 20, the first two shops selling marijuana products opened in Massachusetts.

 In New Jersey, state senators have been debating a bill that would allow adults older than 21 to legally posses up to an ounce of marijuana, and lawmakers may vote on in early next year.

 

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