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Crain’s Business: State officials hear public comments on marijuana

By Jonathan Lamantia, 9/21/18

Several dozen speakers overwhelmingly supported adult use of marijuana at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Thursday—the first of several listening sessions to be held in New York City, as state officials solicit public input on legalization.

But they said they worry that the state’s regulation of the drug will make it feasible only for corporations to profit from its legalization, not people from communities who have been hurt by the criminalization of marijuana.

“Nowadays when you create a new industry you run a real risk, even likelihood, that it will be dominated by a handful of very large corporations,” said Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the only elected official to speak at the event. “I think most of us don’t want that to happen with marijuana.”

The Cuomo administration is holding the listening sessions around the state to inform a workgroup that will draft legislation for a regulated marijuana program, which will be considered next year by the Legislature. The two-hour sessionswill take place next week in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island.

Dr. Joshua Rein, a nephrologist who works for Mount Sinai Doctors and a prescriber in the state’s medical marijuana program, said any law to legalizing marijuana should also include money for research to study clinical outcomes.

The state estimated that total tax revenue from a marijuana retail tax and sales tax, could range from $248 million to $341 million for medium-quality strains and $494 million to $678 million for high-quality strains. Those estimates assume a tax-rate range of 7% to 15%.

On the matter of taxation, speakers cautioned that marijuana must remain affordable or people will continue buying it illegally. Yolanda Allison, who uses medical marijuana to manage pain, spoke at the meeting in favor of allowing people to grow marijuana in their homes. She said she recently spent $400 for 30 capsules and one vape pen that will last less than a month.

The listening sessions follow a July report from the state Department of Health examining how legalization would affect health, criminal justice and tax policy. It concluded “the positive effects of regulating an adult (21 and over) marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts.”

The state should promote women and minority-owned businesses in any law that creates a marijuana market, attorney Cristina Buccola said.

“You must see that there are community reinvestment programs that there are licenses that are set aside for those individuals that have been disproportionately impacted,” she said. “You do not accept any legislation without these parameters.” Mark Amaruso, a Manhattan resident, was one of the few opponents to legalization who spoke on Thursday.

He criticized politicians who have fiercely fought smoking tobacco in public places such as beaches but have advocated for marijuana. Other concerns people had included the effect on people with asthma and how the state would deter young people from using marijuana.

“For most non-smokers, and I’m probably the black sheep here, there’s no distinction between tobacco and marijuana. It still stinks,” he said. The Medical Society of the State of New York, the state’s largest physician trade group, also opposes legalization for recreational use. It supports an approach that favors drug treatment rather than criminal penalties for those arrested for marijuana possession.