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Committee Recommends Marijuana Legalization Resolution, Discusses Community Outreach Worker Program

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Committee Recommends Marijuana Legalization Resolution, Discusses Community Outreach Worker Program

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, after discussion, recommended that the Legislature take a stand in support of marijuana legalization in New York State.   The measure won support by a unanimous 5-0 margin. 

The resolution supports bringing an end to marijuana prohibition; the creation of a diverse and inclusive marijuana industry; the reinvestment of revenue from taxed and regulated marijuana in communities that were impact by the war on drugs; and passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).   The proposed MRTA, through pending bills in the New York State Senate and Assembly, would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana by removing the substance from classification as an illicit drug under New York’s Controlled Substances Act.  An alternate version of the proposed resolution was recommended earlier by the Health and Human Services Committee, and the Legislature will have both versions before it when it considers the matter at its December 20 meeting.

While it notes that 93% of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, and 63% of New Yorkers support legalization of marijuana for adult use, the measure also acknowledges that the Legislature understands that use of marijuana in the state also would have unintended negative consequences for some people—including such factors as risk of dependency, negative cognitive and academic effects, and interrelationships with mental illness—but indicates that passage of the MRTA would enable those unintended negative consequences to be better addressed, in an environment where criminal penalties are not a factor.

Some officials expressed concerns related to the complexity of the issue, but the informal consensus was that marijuana legalization in New York State will be coming.  Undersheriff Brian Robison noted that one difficult aspect from a law enforcement perspective is how to quantify the amount of marijuana in a person’s system, such as in the case of driving under the influence of drugs.  Right now, he said, only presence or absence can be detected, which he said can lead to a very subjective process.

The committee also heard a presentation from Mike Ellis, of Family and Children’s Service, and Community Outreach Worker Tammy Baker about the Community Outreach Program serving vulnerable individuals in the downtown core, jointly supported by Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, Cayuga Medical Center, and the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, and the organization’s request to the County and City to each increase their $20,000 in annual support by $25,000-$30,000.  Ellis said the increase would both enable the hiring of a second outreach worker, to help meet vastly increased demand, and address a financial deficit that is no longer sustainable for the organization.  The plan would be to add the second outreach worker during weekday hours, not to expand the service to additional hours. 

Despite her general support for the program, Legislature Chair Martha Robertson was one to voice significant concerns about the timing of the request this late in the County’s budget process, as well as to question the apparent lack of County involvement in quarterly multi-organization steering committee meetings to monitor the program and its progress.