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Skelos opposes pot decriminalization idea

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos at the State

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos at the State Capitol in Albany. Credit: Steve Jacobs, 2010

ALBANY -- The leader of the state Senate said Wednesday he's opposed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) also said "I don't see" a minimum-wage hike being enacted before the end of the legislative session, set for June 21.

Skelos said Cuomo's marijuana proposal sets the possession threshold too high -- possessing up to 25 grams, just under an ounce, of marijuana would be a violation, rather than a misdemeanor as current law dictates.

Besides, Skelos said, the controversy -- largely a New York City issue -- didn't center on amounts but rather on what happens when a police officer tells a suspect to empty his pockets, revealing a marijuana cigarette, and then the officer charges him with a misdemeanor of having "publicly displayed" the drug.

Skelos said the legislative fix should focus on the "instruction" issue, not the possession amounts. "If the question was emptying out your pockets and that becoming a misdemeanor, then I think we can work with him," Skelos said.

Then, motioning with his fingers as if slipping a cigarette behind his ear, Skelos continued: "But being able to just walk around with 10 joints in each ear and that only be a violation, I think that's wrong."

"Carrying ten joints in each ear would require some set of ears!" Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto responded in an email. "We look forward to working these issues through with the Senate in order to end an injustice that has been allowed to go on for too long."

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) noted a group of downstate district attorneys, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly back Cuomo's proposal.

"The Assembly plans on taking up the measure next week," said the spokesman, Michael Whyland. Though the Democrat-led Assembly has strongly pushed for a minimum-wage hike, Cuomo and Skelos have increasingly cast doubt on its chances.

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