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Albany County DA Looking For Public Input

Albany County DA David Soares
Albany County District Attorney's Office
Albany County District Attorney David Soares

Albany County’s district attorney is taking public input on marijuana laws and regulations as the effort to decriminalize use in New York grows.

District Attorney David Soares held the second meeting Wednesday night of a county tour to engage the community on marijuana decriminalization and market regulation. At the Guilderland Public Library, the Democrat spoke about the current state of marijuana in New York — where medicinal use is already legal, if tightly controlled — as lawmakers debate the drug’s legal future.

“But while they are discussing it, and it seems that they’re going to be passing some sort of decriminalization and regulation, the question for us as we are moving forward is what do we do with cases that are taking place now,” says Soares.

Deborah Hoffmann, a Guilderland resident, reflected on her daughter’s recent 21st birthday. Hoffmann said her daughter would not have even considered driving drunk because education on the consequences starts at a young age.  She says education about marijuana’s effects should be similar.

“And as they are adults I just want them to have time to understand and learn, because clearly when they are children they don’t have the ability to figure that out, but they can start to get messages,” says Hoffmann.

The diverse crowd of about 200 people represented multiple sides of the marijuana debate, and quickly turned the conversation to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Sales start in next door Massachusetts July 1st, and the state Democratic Party in New York now supports legalization. But it’s unclear when legal pot could come to New York.

A major point was possible tax revenue and where the money should be allocated.

“According to the City of New York comptroller, currently we have an illicit economy of marijuana that brings in $3 billion.  In New York City alone the tax revenue flowing from that kind of economy would generate $400 million in New York City alone,” says Soares.

At the meeting, people expressed concern about the state being able to make money off recreational marijuana, saying an illegal market with lower prices would spring up. Others offered support for medical marijuana, while some said pot could lead to opioid or other drug use.

Acknowledging a black market in New York, Soares said the state has the benefit of looking to other places that have legalized some form of marijuana.

“The landscape as we sit here talking today is 29 states that have either medical marijuana or decriminalized and market regulated economy,” says Soares.

He also said if New York legalizes the drug, some of the revenue generated should be used to help areas negatively impacted by existing and past marijuana law enforcement actions.

“If we are going to end the war on marijuana we have a moral and ethical obligation to take the resources that are derived from that economy and restore the communities and restore the lives of the people on the receiving end of decades of prosecution,” says Soares.

Soares talked about his office’s work to seal marijuana convictions.

“We look at people who have been out of corrections for a period of 10 years and depending on the felony they were convicted of or the misdemeanors they were convicted of we will, in fact, help in assisting them to seal those convictions so that they are able to move forward with their lives,” says Soares.

Two more public meetings are scheduled: 6 p.m. Monday, June 18th at Cohoes Public Library and Wednesday, June 20th at 6 p.m. at Bethlehem Public Library.

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