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Sullivan lawmakers ponder marijuana

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MONTICELLO, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed legislation that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state, which he has said he would like to see passed as part of the budget process by the end of March. But some state legislators, including Assembly speaker Carl Heastie, have said it can’t happen that quickly because of the complexities of the issue.

Cuomo’s proposed legislation, which may be changed by the state legislature, would allow municipalities of 100,000 people or more to opt out of legalization. It would also allow smaller counties, such as Sullivan, to control the “time, place and manner,” of the sale of marijuana products.

At recent meetings, Sullivan County legislators have been discussing the wisdom of legal marijuana. At a meeting of the Health and Family Services Committee on February 14, county legislator Alan Sorensen said state officials should slow the process down.  He said, “There’s no question that smoking of marijuana is going to lead to health issues related to lung problems. We’ve spent the past 30 years trying to discourage people from smoking tobacco, and now we’re going to legalize a substance that people primarily will smoke. Some may eat brownies or whatever, but the vast majority of folks are going to smoke it.” 

He also said perhaps legalization should be the subject of a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). “I’m going to go back and take another look at the SEQR regulations. I think SEQR demands that we take a hard look at the impacts, through the environmental impact statement process. That was required for fracking [hydraulic fracturing]—the state did a thorough analysis, studied the environmental impacts and benefits.”

Legislature chair Luis Alvarez, a former sheriff’s deputy, said the public should be educated about the actual impacts of marijuana before it is legalized.  He also said he hoped the state would provide funding for police training regarding recognizing people who are high on marijuana, which is more time-consuming than training for testing for alcohol intoxication. 

Legislator Nadia Rajsz said she was going to invite the county’s opioid task force to a meeting of the committee to discuss the issue, possibly in April.

See this week’s editorial on page six.

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