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Next In NYS: Legal Marijuana?

Krueger office

A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in New York State was introduced last week. The measure would regulate the sale of pot and tax it, treating it similarly to alcohol.  Proponents are cautiously optimistic that the governor might see the plan in a favorable light.

State Senator Liz Krueger has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana in the state. The measure would allow anyone over 21 to purchase and carry up to two ounces. 18-year-olds could legally possess grass but not buy it.  And while the Upper East Side Democrat says current marijuana laws unfairly target minorities, her bill would set a "pot tax" of $50 per ounce, although it would allow individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.

Colorado and Washington State have already legalized pot.  Krueger, a Democrat, says marijuana could evolve into a $3 billion industry in New York.  "...public opinion polls show that the public wants this."

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber in a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, aren't so sure. Senate G-O-P spokesman Scott Reif:   "We’re focused on cutting taxes to create jobs, so families can stay in New York."

Manhattan Democrat Richard Gottfried chairs the Assembly Health Committee:   "We really should move from our dysfunctional prohibition model to the tax and regulate approach. Marijuana is nowhere near as potentially harmful as alcohol, and our law is dishonest and that undermines our message to young people."

Gottfried adds that Krueger's proposal is a separate issue from allowing medical use of marijuana under a doctor's supervision, which he has been fighting for. Krueger believes legalizing marijuana would create jobs.   "It starts as an agricultural product and it would be moving through to a retail sales model, so yes, you would create jobs and yes, you would create enormous amounts of tax revenue."

Gottfried says legalization would send a message to young people. "It's just wrong to try to pretend that it's in a class with heroin. And it would eliminate the really rampant racially biased enforcement of the law that we now see."

Krueger points out African Americans are far more likely to be arrested than whites, despite similar rates of pot use among both groups. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly supported decriminalizing a small amount of marijuana in a move that would make possession of up to 25 grams of the drug a violation in order to stem “stop-and-frisk” arrests in New York City.

The governor's office did not return a call for comment, but a Cuomo spokesman is on record characterizing Krueger's bill as a “non-starter.” Krueger cited a few others in that genre: marriage equality and the mitigation of the oppressive Rockefeller drug laws.    "I could pull out a very long list of bills that were ‘non-starters’ since I started in the Senate that actually became ‘starters’ and got done. "

Gottfried says Cuomo is free to pick and choose which issues he'll take a stand on — and free to change his thinking.   "I'm optimistic that the Governor will come to see the good sense of allowing medical use of marijuana and I would hope that ultimately both Democrats and Republicans will come to understand that the tax and regulate approach is also the sensible way to go."

In April, Cuomo emphasized that he is not in favor of legalizing pot, but has told reporters he would keep “an open mind” on the issue.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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