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Cuomo: Legalize recreational pot use, under strict regulation

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo propelled the effort to

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday propelled the effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana by including it in his budget address. Credit: News 12 Long Island

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday propelled the effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana by including it in his budget address, but serious discussions of how he intends to make it work are still ahead as the medical community and some key legislators want more study of health and safety issues.

Cuomo proposed to make 21 the legal age to consume marijuana, the same as he has proposed for tobacco use. The governor said legalizing marijuana would bring in $300 million in state revenue and “create the good union jobs that we need.”

His aides later explained that it would still be illegal to grow marijuana at home for recreational use, although the law would allow home growers to raise as many as four plants for medicinal use.

One element that has local leaders including the New York State Association of Counties asking questions is Cuomo’s plan to allow major cities and counties the ability to opt out of the law.

All counties could opt out, but only large cities with populations of more than about 100,000 or more would be eligible to do so. The intent is to make it clear where recreational marijuana use is allowed by taking advantage of clear signage that identifies big cities and county lines, said Jason Conwall, Cuomo spokesman.

But the New York State Association of Counties wants more information on what it called “a complex area of public policy.”

“It does make sense in some instances for a regional government to have the ability to make decisions like this and we are looking at this, but we are sort of neutral on it now,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “We’re trying to figure out the revenue side of it as well.”

Cuomo provided few additional details Tuesday, but followed a lead by the Assembly’s Democratic majority to steer manufacturing and operations to minority communities that have born of the brunt of police arrests for marijuana, despite studies that show the drug had been consumed by whites and minorities at about the same rate.

“Let’s create an industry that serves the community that paid the price and not rich corporations,” Cuomo said to some of the loudest applause in his nearly two-hour budget presentation. “Now we just have to put it in place.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said he liked what he heard, but noted that he needs to see details in upcoming budget bills. “The hell is in the details,” Heastie said.

The effort to legalize weed is getting late opposition by physicians and from some New York legislators.

“There is not enough long-term evidence to demonstrate this is something that is safe and won’t harm our communities,” said Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the state Association of County Health Officials. “There is a lot of short-term evidence and journal articles that suggest we should be concerned.”

“Physicians," the Medical Society of the State of New York stated, “are very concerned that marijuana is an addictive drug that can have significant adverse public health impacts if it were to be legalized for nonmedicinal purposes.”

There also are questions about Cuomo’s estimate that legalizing weed could bring in $300 million to the state.

“Based on the past, there are some doubts and reservations that it may generate that kind of income,” said Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Utica), the acting Senate minority leader. He cited Cuomo’s past claims that opening Las Vegas-style casinos would turn around the upstate economy, but the state is now providing bailouts to some casinos.

Assemb. Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) is among a few legislators who believes the process is going to too fast and is urging far more study of the health and public safety costs.

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