Lawmakers Weigh In On Potentially Legalizing Recreational Marijuana In NY

Mar 22, 2019

New York’s move to legalize recreational marijuana has stepped away from the budget and into the remainder of the legislative session. Opinions about whether to legalize the substance vary within regions and across party lines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, once hopeful that legalizing recreational marijuana would be part of the state budget due April 1, has removed anticipated revenue from its legalization from the $170 billion spending plan.

“After the budget, I’m hopeful in the legislative session it passes, post-budget, before June,” says Cuomo.

Democratic state Senator David Carlucci:

“From the research that I’ve done, the work that I’ve done, I think that we need to move forward on regulating this product and not just putting our head in the sand, but there’s a lot of details that we have to figure out first,” Carlucci says.

He says with legalization all but dead in the budget, it’s time to get moving on legislation.

“I’d like to move forward with a policy that had recreational marijuana, that we’re recognizing the side effects, recognizing that we have got to keep it out of the hands of children, but we’ve got to cut out the black market. We’ve got to have restorative justice to people that have been wrongfully imprisoned for marijuana possession. It’s wasting taxpayer dollars,” Carlucci says. “So, it’s a very complicated issue because there’s a lot of details involved, but we have to keep the conversation going.”

Carlucci says legalization was the prominent topic raised at his recent town hall. His 38th District includes a bit of Westchester and most of Rockland, where Republican County Executive Ed Day is looking to opt out of any recreational marijuana sales. Day says the budget was not the place for recreational marijuana legalization.

“What should happen is there should be a deliberative approach by the legislature to finding out the best way of handling this,” Day says.

Again, Cuomo.

“And, I said from day one that the marijuana issue was going to be controversial,” Cuomo says. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Day, a former police commander, says there are too many questions and issues that have not been addressed.

“You hear arguments such as, well, young men of color are being victimized by this law. Let’s be serious here, ok? The fact of the matter is the personal possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized years ago. It’s akin to a traffic violation. What has not been decriminalized is smoking in public view. That is still a [Class] B misdemeanor,” Day says. “If your focus is on ensuring that we don’t waste resources, that we don’t victimize any community with unnecessary arrests, there are ways of doing it without legalizing it. So, let’s be honest and open about it.”

Across the Hudson River from Rockland, Westchester County Executive George Latimer is steering clear of declaring an opt-out like some of his neighbors. In a statement Thursday, Latimer, a Democrat, says Westchester prefers to wait on any opt-out and see what becomes law and in what form. In part, he says, “Should the measure pass this year, and should a county opt-out provision be included in the law, our Administration and the Board of Legislators will meet to determine how to handle our role in the matter.” Westchester County, in January, put in place a new marijuana prosecution policy. The possession of two ounces or less of marijuana will no longer result in a criminal conviction. Rockland’s Ed Day:

“We are in a situation now where we are looking to get our young people away from drugs. How do we square it by saying it’s ok to smoke marijuana? There are a lot of questions here,” says Day. “The pushback you’re seeing is not just from me. The pushback has come from Nassau, Suffolk and Putnam county executives also.”

Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says it’s appropriate to pause and explore the impacts and implications of legalizing marijuana amid a lot of unresolved questions.

“And we recently put together a cannabis working group, a number of different agencies within the government looking at public health, public safety, budgetary impacts, impacts on communities of color, impacts on our veterans population — we have the highest veterans population in the state in Suffolk County —  and then, just some of the details of how this would work. What are employee policies we’d have to have,” Bellone says. “These are some of the issues that have come up.”  

Bellone says he is ready to introduce opt-out legislation with a sunset clause, a one-year moratorium on opting out of selling and/or growing marijuana in the county.

“We understand what we want to do but not understanding exactly what’s going to be in the state legislation, it’s difficult to move forward,” says Bellone. “So we’re ready to move forward with that as soon as we have a better understanding of what the state’s legalization legislation will look like.”

In recent weeks, the health committees of some local legislatures in the Hudson Valley have been welcoming public comment and considering the impact of legalizing recreational marijuana on their municipalities.