Hudson Valley residents had a chance to weigh in on the legalization of adult-use marijuana in New York. They did so in Newburgh Monday night at one of 17 listening sessions being held across the state.
In July, the state Department of Health released a report finding that positive effects outweighed negative effects in regulating adult-use marijuana. Now, it’s the public’s turn to deliver opinions. Monday’s session held at the SUNY Orange Newburgh campus was the first in the Hudson Valley. Ursula Clancy is a nurse.
“Regulating pot, just like regulating alcohol and cigarettes, never really made a difference in my Brooklyn neighborhood because we still got cigarettes and alcohol whenever we wanted it,” Clancy says.
She and others expressed worry about minors getting a hold of pot more easily.
“And it’s going to be everywhere for kids to get it and for people to smoke it and become dumber,” Clancy says. “So I think this is not going to make our communities better.”
Others who oppose legalization argued that there would be an increased risk of motor vehicle and other accidents. George Dallas is a pharmacist at Curaleaf’s medical marijuana dispensary in Newburgh. He has a different concern.
“Any conversation about legalizing recreational cannabis in New York needs to also be a conversation about protecting the medical cannabis program,” Dallas says.
And he urges the state to allow for more medical marijuana dispensaries. Sandra Houston facilitates the listening sessions. She is consultant to the governor’s executive chamber.
“We’re hearing a variety of voices and definitely some themes. So I can’t highlight a particular community, but we’re definitely hearing a variety of voices, which is great,” Houston says. “We wanted diverse voices and we wanted community members to come out to give us their input, so we’ve had great turnout.”
She declined to detail any themes. Gail Goodman is a Dutchess County resident who says she worked in the criminal justice system for years.
“The thing to do is to legalize it, is to regulate it, is to make sure our kids are informed about it,” Goodman says. “I’m more concerned, truthfully, about the people who are texting on the road, that they’re going to hit me, than I am about somebody that might have had a toke or two before they left the house.”
“But my main complaint here is we’re ignoring reality,” says Goodman. “As I say, it’s not a partisan issue.”
The Green Party has long been a proponent of legalizing marijuana. Orange County resident Jessica Gocke is a Green Party member.
“So what I’d like to see happen is education. I’d like to see the ignorance extinguished. I’d like to see the opportunities that have been lost for our farmers every day that this is not legalized,” Gocke says. “I think our farmers could benefit the most.”
In fact, others say legalization could revitalize the local farming community in the Hudson Valley and, with its black dirt region in Orange County, the area could become a prime growing spot.
“This is not about anything other than adults who make responsible decisions today about their own bodies with cigarettes and alcohol, which is a poison, also being able to make those same responsible decisions about cannabis, something that they can’t OD on,” says Gocke.
Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Ruppert opposes legalization. Speaking also for the state Association of County Health Officials, she requested a seat at the table as regulations are developed. Again, Houston, the session facilitator.
“The input will be shared with the work group that’s been formed by the governor,” says Houston. “And they will use the information in drafting of legislation.”