Could recreational marijuana become legal in NYS? Gov. Cuomo calls for a study

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for a study on recreational marijuana. He announced the request during a presentation of his executive budget  for the 2019 fiscal year.

“Look at the health impact, the economic impact, the state of the law,” said Gov. Cuomo.

Gov. Cuomo didn’t elaborate on whether or not he supports a recreational program, he just said the state needs to have all the facts, especially as bordering states like Massachusetts legalize it.

He proposes the NYS Department of Health work with state police and other agencies to study how a regulated pot program would work.

“I was very pleased it wasn’t just a knee jerk reaction,” said Robin Mann, the executive director of the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.

She believes legalizing marijuana could encourage more young people to use it.

“It sends the perception if it’s legal, it must be okay,” said Mann.

There are risks to the drug. According to Mann, a person’s brain develops until they’re 25 years old and there are studies showing marijuana can slow that development.

“Marijuana is still a gateway drug,” said Mann. “It alters the mind, it alters one’s mood, it has an impact on one’s body.”

She also has concerns about the public safety risk, saying it could increase motor vehicle crashes and hospital visits.

“I would really strongly encourage them to look at the big picture,” said Mann. “Not just at it from a financial standpoint but look at it from how it impacts the individuals and their families.

Some advocates for legalizing marijuana argue it could help minority communities.

“Locally we see that people of color make up 77 percent of arrests for marijuana possession, when they only make up 18 percent of the population and they use marijuana at slightly lower rates than their white counterparts,” said Max Anderson, the Director of Strategic Communications & Public Policy at the non-profit Open Buffalo.

Those statistics are from a recent report by the local think tank, Partnership for the Public Good.

Anderson said legalizing pot for adults over the age of 21 could help reduce incarceration rates.

“Those arrests for low level possession have devastating impacts on job prospects, on education, on families, separating families, and on your ability to get student loans,” he said. “To us the whole marijuana enforcement issue is a justice issue.”

John Coppola, the executive director of the State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, told News 4 these are two separate aspects of the debate. He suggests lawmakers first look at whether it should be criminal to possess marijuana and then decide whether it should be available for recreational use.

He said he hopes the state takes “extreme caution” as it moves forward studying the positive and negative aspects of legalizing marijuana. Coppola wants lawmakers to consider the recent studies on the drugs addictive qualities, the public safety risk, and the effect on the criminal justice system.

The Governor’s study is still just a proposal at this point.

Gov. Cuomo’s announcement comes just one day after Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Erie County executive Joel Giambra announced he wants to see pot decriminalized and would use the revenue to pay for state infrastructure projects, if elected.

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