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Northern NY State Representatives Weigh In On Pot Legalization

Senator Betty Little (left) and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (right) visit Plattsburgh with state Housing Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas (center)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Senator Betty Little (left) and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (right) visit Plattsburgh with state Housing Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas (center)

In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the New York state Health Department to study the impact of legalization of marijuana. Issued in July, the report concluded: “The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in New York State outweigh the potential negative impacts.” During a visit to Plattsburgh this week the region’s state Senate and Assembly representatives weighed in about the potential for pot legalization.
The Health Department’s “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State” found that any areas of concern regarding legalized marijuana can be dealt with through regulation and education.  It notes that state agencies and public health and safety experts weighed in and  “No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised.”

The state Senate appears to be more reticent to ease marijuana laws and open up a regulated market. Republican State Senator Betty Little reflects that reluctance.  She voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana but has a number of questions about recreational use.  “I question and I’ve talked to law enforcement officials. How does someone know when they’ve had too much marijuana and then maybe have a drink and then drive?  Is there a limit? And my understanding marijuana stays in a person’s system for a number of days so even on a test they wouldn’t be able to tell whether you’d just had marijuana or you had marijuana three days before. So I think it’s going to take a lot of discussion and a lot of debate. Because of my concerns I would say I’m against it right now but I certainly am going to listen to all the debates and talk about it.”

Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat, believes New York will legalize recreational use within a couple years.  “I want to get together with all of our partners, law enforcement, counselors, substance abuse counselors in the field to get together and have a comprehensive package. But I would first say we need to work on our medical marijuana program because I think we’ve lagged behind in that. There’s actually bills that we have done in the Assembly to expand medical marijuana for opioid use as well. And I just believe we need to work on that before we move forward with recreational use. But I do believe recreational use will be here in New York state within a couple of years.”

New York City is moving toward decriminalization. On July 1st, recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts and Vermont allowed personal possession, but not the sale, of small amounts of pot. On October 17th cannabis will be legal in Canada. Senator Little says the impact of those border areas on New York will need to be assessed.  “It is going to change  the situation in New York and it’s going to have to be something that’s considered.”

Jones hopes the state will learn from the jurisdictions that have already implemented pot laws.  “We can learn lessons from other states that have done it. Learn from some of the problems and the concerns that they’ve had with it before we get a plan in place. There is an advantage letting other people do something first. We can learn from what they’ve gone through and I think we can come up with a good plan moving forward.”

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