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Cuomo Appoints Group To Draft Bill For Regulating Marijuana: Law Enforcement Officials Weigh In

Composite photo by Dave Lucas

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that a group consisting of New York state government and law enforcement officials, advocates and academics has been appointed to draft legislation for regulating recreational marijuana.

The Democrat said the 20-member group will be led by his counsel, Alphonso David, who will also serve as liaison between the governor's office and stakeholders as the state formulates a program for a regulated marijuana market.

The state health department found in a recent report that while legalizing marijuana would have some pitfalls, it would open up millions in new revenue.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares conducted a listening tour in June, gathering public input on marijuana laws and regulations in anticipation of changing laws. During the Guilderland stop on the tour Soares touched on tax revenue:  “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.”

Cuomo, a Democrat like Soares, in the past had opposed legalization, often referring to marijuana as a “gateway” drug.

As attitudes about marijuana evolve, law enforcement officials like Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple have been closely watching, considering how to best accommodate changes that seem sure to come — as in neighboring states and Canada.  "I don't, like, staunchly oppose this first of all, mainly because it seems to be the growing trend, it seems to be that states around us are legalizing it. I think we would be foolish to not look at this. Some of our concerns are obviously operating motor vehicles and quantities, how much of a quantity are you going to allow somebody to possess. Smoking in public, our K-9's. So there's so many different variables that need to be looked at," Apple said.

Among those appointed to the panel is New York State Police superintendent George Beach. Beach did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Apple says it's good to have law enforcement personnel represented on the panel.   "I have slowly but surely tried to slow down our officers from even charging people with UPM's. I mean, listen, UPM's do nothing more, which is an unlawful possession of marijuana, it's a violation. They do nothing more than bog down our courts and usually ruin kids' careers, so... We have been, I have nee deterring my staff for quite some time from those arrests, but again there's a lot of variables, and listen, I'm torn with this myself from the mere fact that I have seen people start with marijuana and escalate into more dangerous drugs, and that is very concerning for me. But on the other side of that coin, again, I've seen people not be able to get student loans or get thrown out of college or whatever the case may be as well over a very small amount of marijuana. So hopefully we'll be able to find a happy medium."

Sales of recreational marijuana began in Massachusetts July 1st.

Albany Police Chief Appointee Eric Hawkins says if he is confirmed by the common council, he'll likely lead the department to handle overinduldgers the same way officers currently deal with people who have problems with alcohol or other substances.  "If it's legalized, then obviously people under certain conditions will have an opportunity, a legal right to possess and use. So, we may have to change our strategy a little bit and start focus, we do a lot with mental illness, we do a lot with other substance abuse addictions. We will likely have to shift our focus a little bit to start assisting those who may have addictions with marijuana. And working with some of these uh social agencies that will undoubtedly will develop, because of this, and start working very closely with them, because just like an individual who has a legal right to consume alcohol, if they, you know if they overindulge, it could be a problem. If it becomes an addiction, it could become a problem. It could become a crime problem, and so part of our overall community policing strategy and our philosophy, will have to adjust to this."

Cuomo's panel is tasked with compiling a list of recommendations for the legislature to consider when it returns to Albany in January.


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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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