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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Legalizing pot in New York is a slow burn

In a letter issued Friday, the medical

 In a letter issued Friday, the medical societies of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware opposed legalization of recreational marijuana. Photo Credit: AP/Seth Perlman

Coming into 2019 the race was on to legalize recreational marijuana in New York and several states that border it, and it looked like the pace was getting very heady, very fast. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pot shop in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania: the legalization progress slowed to a crawl. And that gave New York’s politicians leeway to move more slowly, too.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has been a strong proponent of full legalization and pushed hard for a bill that paired recreational sales with expungement of records for many past pot convictions, but on March 25 he and legislative leaders pulled the bill when it became clear it did not have enough votes to pass.

In Connecticut, legalization legislation is winding slowly through a series of committee votes. Gov. Ned Lamont’s support of legalization once he succeeded pot-skeptic Dannel Malloy was expected to be the key to easy passage, and Lamont predicts the law will change this year but on the last day of session, June 5. However, a growing number of legislators are voicing concerns about impaired driving and other impacts and it is not clear the change will happen anytime soon.

And in Pennsylvania, a legalization bill introduced with much fanfare in mid-March has faltered and the lieutenant governor has been dispatched on a statewide “listening tour” to hear voters out before any action is taken.

Recreational marijuana use in New York was expected to be legalized as part of the state budget passed last week. Here, too, concerns are cropping up and opponents are finding their footing. Nassau and Suffolk leaders, for example, said they would opt out of approving local sales.

In Massachusetts, where recreational sales are now allowed, store openings began very slowly toward the end of last year but have now speeded up. The state’s 13th store open to all adult customers just kicked off sales in Brookline.

But Massachusetts has something going for it that all 10 states with full commercial legalization share: they all passed their laws following voter referendums in support.

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are four of the 24 states that do not allow for binding voter referendums, so don’t look to voters to get the pot legalization rolling forward.

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