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State Lawmakers React To Cuomo’s Recreational Marijuana Proposal

WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says his 2021 agenda includes addressing a $15 billion budget deficit partly by legalizing recreational marijuana. Some area lawmakers have concerns.

For the third year in a row, the governor is supporting legalizing marijuana for recreational use, arguing it's time New York state to take action, since neighboring New Jersey and Massachusetts have already done so and Connecticut is poised to.

State lawmakers have reservations. 109th district Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, a Democrat, says she still has concerns including impaired driving and increased access to the drug.

"I will still be looking out to make sure we limit youth access and definitely educate youth certainly there is a downside here though. We should have certainly learned a lot on the medicinal uses of marijuana and that needs to be opened up as well. So I think there's work to be done here but I am open to the public. I will also want to make sure that we are have some strict requirements there with any form of impaired driving so but I think I think generally we're moving in the right direction."

Republican Chris Tague of the 102nd district is on the same page.

"What do we put in place to determine whether someone has smoked too much marijuana so to speak or used too much marijuana? What do we have in place like we do with alcohol? You know we have a breathalyzer test that tells whether someone is over the limit to function. That's the question and concern I have with any recreational marijuana bill."

Tague says he won’t support the measure until his concerns are addressed. His 112th district Republican colleague Mary Beth Walsh would like to see a plan for traffic safety and testing for impaired driving.

"And if you take a look at other states that have legalized, that's an issue, when you have a motor vehicle accident and somebody's responding to the scene. They're going to need to be able to judge whether that individual is impaired because of marijuana or any other drug. I think we're going to need to see a plan for addressing derivative crimes such as robberies. I think we really need to have a plan for addressing youth education regarding youths and misuse, even though sale is only supposed to be for those 21 and over. We know that it's going to change the way that youth are going to be looking at marijuana use. I think we need to address addiction treatments and also workplace concerns."

108th district Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald says New York residents are either going north to Canada or across state lines to purchase adult use marijuana. In addition to public safety, he's concerned about taxation.

“Whatever resources come need to go back to impacted communities. But at the same token, we can't levy too many layers of taxes on it. That it is not, it allows the underground drug market to continue to operate. One of the biggest challenges that the average person has with marijuana is they know what they know, they know what they've experienced for the last 2030 years. And that's basically been in an unregulated, underground dark market. Where there's no standardization. I've come to the conclusion that when looking at legalization of adult use marijuana, it's almost as if we're having prohibition with the business, just in the marijuana industry. And that, who knows maybe with standardization, where people know what they're buying, they know what their limits could be. Maybe the adverse impacts and the concerns that people had, will be minimized. “

State officials say legal marijuana could have a $300-million dollar impact on annual tax revenue and ease New York's $15 billion dollar budget deficit.

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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