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Legislature Supports Marijuana Legalization in New York State

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Legislature Supports Marijuana Legalization in New York State

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Culminating weeks of discussion on the part of two of its committees, the Legislature took a stand in support of marijuana legalization in New York State.  The resolution, which supports what the State is already doing, favors bringing an end to marijuana prohibition; creation of a diverse and inclusive marijuana industry; reinvestment of revenue from taxed and regulated marijuana in communities impacted 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. 

The Legislature’s resolution notes that marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance, with marijuana possession the most commonly charged drug offense; accounting each year for over 600,00 Americans arrested, imprisoned, fined, or otherwise criminalized and stigmatized, potentially for life, because of their use of marijuana, with a disproportionate impact to people of color.   New York State has one of the worst racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the United States, the resolution states, with people of color being eight times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people, despite similar rates of use.

The vote was 13-1, with Legislator Michael Lane voting no.  Mr. Lane said he is not convinced that this is a stand the County should be taking, suggesting the push for marijuana legalization is coming from big business that wants to make money.  “If you want to support vice, go ahead and do this,” he said.  He pointed to concerns from the County Board of Health, maintaining certain aspects are serious enough to prompt concern.  Legislator Deborah Dawson remarked she does not see marijuana as a vice any more than alcohol or tobacco, and Legislator Anna Kelles noted that, as a legal substance, marijuana will be regulated.  Public Safety Chair Rich John called the issue a trade-off, which he would support despite some concerns—among them his uncertainty about the State’s ability to implement legalization in the careful way that it should be.  “The present system is not working,” he said, and that overall he views legalization as a far superior approach.  “We make decisions all the time that are not black and white,” Legislator Kelles said.  “There are risks as well as benefits…I believe the benefits outweigh the risks.”