Finger Lakes State Lawmakers Attack Decriminalization of Marijuana | New

ALBANY – With Governor Andrew Cuomo signing on Wednesday, New Yorkers 21 and older can now own up to 3 ounces of marijuana and smoke it anywhere smoking and vaping are permitted.

This is just one piece of legislation passed in the Assembly and Senate to legalize recreational marijuana in New York City, which joins at least 15 other states that have also done so.

The legislation also establishes the Cannabis Management Office to create a regulatory framework covering medical, adult and cannabinoid hemp. And it is expanding the state’s existing medical marijuana and cannabinoid hemp programs. The legislation also provides for licenses for producers, distributors, retailers and other players in the cannabis market. The Cuomo administration believes it could generate $ 350 million a year and create 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs statewide.

While advocates for legalization hailed its passage, after several years of preparation, state lawmakers in the region, all Republicans, have expressed opposition to the legislation for a number of reasons, including fear that it does not encourage the use of marijuana in children and it does not lead to more traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers.

State Senator Pam Helming, R-54 de Canandaigua, is among the critics.

“The devil is in the details,” she said in a statement to The Finger Lakes Times. “Whether or not you support the recreational use of marijuana by adults, one thing is for sure: this is a bad bill that will create a bureaucratic nightmare. “

She said under the plan, Cuomo would have control over recreational, medical and hemp growers through the creation of new agencies overseeing the industry.

Further, Helming said, the legislation “ignores the legitimate safety concerns of law enforcement and district attorneys, as well as those of medical and public health experts, employers and local communities. It will take up to two years for sales to begin. In the meantime, I will fight to ensure that these concerns are taken into account, that all ridings are heard and that this process is transparent. “

State Assembly Member Brian Manktelow, R-130 from Lyon, said he was concerned about greater accessibility to marijuana for children. Making it more easily accessible will open the door to abuse from under-21s, he said.

Additionally, he said there were issues involving people with CDL driver’s licenses, such as truck drivers, regarding the use of marijuana, saying it had not been decriminalized in the past. federal level.

“If you have a CDL license and get tested for drugs, you could lose your job,” he said. “Federal laws take precedence over state laws.”

And from a road safety standpoint, he’s worried about preventing people from driving while high.

“There is no way to test if the drug is in your system,” he said. “It should be in place” before it is decriminalized.

State Assembly Member Phil Palmesano, R-132 of Corning, whose district includes Yates County, said he remained “adamantly opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the United States. State of New York and was concerned that we were taking steps in this legislation that will create long-term risks to public health and safety in our communities. … Educators and public health experts point out the risks to the well-being of our children. Improving the availability and acceptability of marijuana sends the wrong message to young people, could lead to the use of other drugs such as heroin and opioids and endanger their future quality of life. Police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials continue to warn that legalizing marijuana results in less safe roads, increased road deaths and other criminal justice issues.

State Senator Tom O’Mara, R-58 from Big Flats, whose district includes Yates County, said he was one of the first Republican state senators to support legalization of the marijuana for medical purposes, but has many concerns regarding the legislation, including the safety of motorists, increasing accessibility for under 21s, the impact of the drug on the mental health of young users and the consequences potential for the workplace.

“There are far too many loose ends in this legislation which have not been fully publicized and which pose a disturbing risk to safe roads, safe communities, safe schools, safe workplaces and health. and public safety in general, ”he said. “We continue to hear an outcry of warnings from police and law enforcement officials, public health experts, local government leaders, educators and employers. We must heed these warnings and not move forward until there is so much long-term uncertainty about the potential negative consequences. “

Member of the State Assembly Jeff Gallahan, R-131 from Manchester, did not respond to an emailed request for comment to his spokesperson.

Address inequalities

Advocates of criminal justice reform hope it will also help correct the inequalities of a system that has locked up people of color for marijuana-related offenses at disproportionate rates.

The legislation provides protections for cannabis users in the workplace, housing, family court and in schools, colleges and universities, and sets a target of providing half of marijuana licenses to those born. of under-represented communities. And the police could no longer use the smell of cannabis as a pretext to search someone’s car for contraband.

New York will begin automatically clearing criminal records for people with certain previous marijuana-related convictions, and state law enforcement will not be able to arrest or prosecute individuals for possession of marijuana up to 3 ounces. It’s a step beyond a 2019 law that removed many previous convictions for possession of marijuana and reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts.

Unlike every other state that has legalized recreational marijuana, New Yorkers over the age of 21 can now smoke cannabis in public, including on sidewalks.

“No state legalizing adult use allows personal consumption of cannabis in public,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the oldest organization defense of the country’s cannabis reform. “In each state, it remains a sentence, generally civil. “

The law immediately allows the consumption of cannabis in public spaces, although New Yorkers cannot smoke or vape marijuana in places prohibited by state law, including workplaces, bars, and indoor restaurants, colleges and universities, hospitals and within 100 feet of a school. And stricter local smoking rules apply.

Local governments can enact stricter rules on marijuana use and impose small civil penalties as long as they don’t “completely or essentially prohibit a person” from legally using marijuana.

The new law allows cities and towns to refuse to authorize adult cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing local law by December 31, 2021, or nine months after the date of registration. entry into force of the legislation. They cannot opt ​​out of legalization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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