Top Tags

Times-Union: Advocates make final push for marijuana legalization

By Matt Hamilton

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana were at the state Capitol on Monday to plead with state lawmakers not to let their hopes for the creation of a recreational market go up in smoke for yet another year.

Lawmakers and advocates are backing legislation that would regulate and tax an industry that would be open to those who are 21 years of age or older. It’s a recycled proposal that has not gained significant traction in past sessions. Whether it can overcome hurdles in the final two weeks of the legislative session, especially in the Republican-controlled state Senate, remains unclear.

The bill has undergone revision and was reintroduced just last week. It’s core tenants are: Marijuana would be removed from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances in state law; New Yorkers 21 or older would be allowed to cultivate up to six plants in home; and those of age would be allowed to possess or transport up to two pounds of marijuana and four-and-a-half ounces of concentrated cannabis.

 Among the major changes from previous legislation is an increase of the minimum age for possession, purchase and use from 18 to 21.

“We have legal tobacco, and that kills you,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, the Senate bill sponsor. “We have legal alcohol, which actually can also kill you. And yet marijuana, which is far less dangerous than either of those products, kills you if we send you to jail or ruin your life because of it.”

New York Democrats have toyed with the idea of modifying law to legalize recreational marijuana in the past but efforts have fallen flat. Public support statewide for recreational marijuana has been mixed, polling has shown in recent years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed this year for a second time in his tenure to decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana, stuffing it into his state budget proposal. He subsequently pooh-poohed legalization of recreational marijuana, and his proposal didn’t make it into the final budget deal

Top New York elected officials have held off putting serious political capital behind legalization efforts as other states’ recreational markets have been well-documented. After voters approved the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts last year, New York is waiting to see what impact, if any, that market will have on the Empire State in terms of usage by New Yorkers and headaches for law enforcement between the bordering states.

While recreational efforts have stalled out here, the state has been running a medical marijuana program that was authorized by the Legislature in 2014, with sales beginning in January 2016. One of the key restrictions of that program, seen as one of the country’s most strict, is that smokeable forms of the drug are not allowed. That has endeared the program to some groups wary of recreational marijuana.

At the same time, high prices have been a hurdle for some patients who now number more than 21,000 — none of whom can obtain insurance coverage for the medical marijuana products because the drug remains federally illegal.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried — a Manhattan Democrat integral in the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which established the medical marijuana program — was upbeat Monday when asked what kind of market correlation there might be between the medical program and a recreational market.

“I don’t think they would have any effect on each other,” he said. “For starters, most medical marijuana has no intoxicating value, and the people who are going through the cumbersome process to get access to medical marijuana are not doing it for recreational purposes. Nobody who wants marijuana for recreational purposes is now in the medical market.”