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Marijuana Legalization Listening Sessions Begin In New York

A listening session on legalizing adult use of marijuana was held in Albany.
Lucas Willard
A listening session on legalizing adult use of marijuana was held in Albany.

The Cuomo administration is holding public listening sessions across the state on the legalization of marijuana. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief attended the first hearing Wednesday night in Albany.

In January, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would direct state agencies to review the potential impact of legalizing marijuana. In July, the New York State Health Department released a reportsaying the positive effects of a “regulated marijuana market” outweigh the negatives.

Now, the public has a chance to weigh in.

Consultant Sandra Houston moderated Wednesday’s event at the Albany Capital Center, the first of 15 public listening sessions scheduled across the state.

Houston said the information would be shared with a workgroup that will develop legislation.

“It’s for us to get input from the community and key stakeholders on the development of legislation that would inform a regulated adult-use marijuana program,” said Houston.

Attendees lined up to speak both for and against marijuana legalization, though a majority seemed to be in favor.

Reverend Henry McGrath is Executive Director of a Fulton County-based group called Neighborhoods Against Drugs.

“Just legalize marijuana in New York State. And we support that because we fight – Neighborhoods Against Drugs – fights the opiate epidemic,” said McGrath. “And it’s undeniable that marijuana is used to fight heroin addiction and opioid addictions, especially for veterans.”

McGrath’s group conducted its own survey on marijuana use. Nearly 90 percent of respondents believed marijuana use should be legalized in New York.

Many at the hearing shared their personal health problems. Attendees credited medical marijuana as providing relief for those living with cancer, Crohn’s disease, and other illnesses. A common complaint, however, was the high cost of medical cannabis products in New York.

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 30 states. Recreational marijuana is legal in nine. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug.

Beyond the medical benefits of legalizing adult use, others discussed the social and racial impact, including Albany resident Charles Obar Robinson. 

“The black market. Hmph,” sighed Robinson. “Now it’s about to be the white market. Does that make it right? No, that makes a lot of money.”

According to the Health Department report, retail sales and taxation of marijuana could generate between $248 million and $677 million annually.

Robinson, along with others, support the expunging of records for those who have faced criminal charges for possession of marijuana.

As the governor’s office continues its listening sessions through October, a group of Democrats in the New York State Assembly will hold their own hearings on marijuana legalization.

Albany state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat, said marijuana legalization is a complicated issue, but she’s keeping an open mind.

Though she has several concerns, Fahy supports the concept of clearing the records of those previously convicted on marijuana charges.

“Either way, I’m going to fully support the full decriminalization and the full expunging of record for those with possession,” said Fahy.

Future two-hour public listening sessions begin at 6 p.m. The next session is set for tonight on the campus of SUNY Adirondack in the Town of Queensbury.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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