Wednesday night marks the latest in a series of “listening sessions” on regulated marijuana in New York State, and it’s taking place in Western New York.
The sessions are an effort to gather public opinion about the impacts of a regulated adult-use marijuana program in different regions of the state.
In July, a report from the New York State Department of Health said the positive effects of a regulated adult-use marijuana program would outweigh the negatives. It highlighted impacts to health, criminal justice, public safety, and the economy, along with the need for educating the public if legalization is approved. The report also estimated that revenue generated from taxation of retail sales of marijuana could reach between $248.1 million and $677.7 million annually, depending on the price of an ounce and the tax rate.
“I support the health department’s report,” Cuomo said during a recent visit to Western New York.
Following the release of the report, Cuomo appointed a 20-person working group to begin drafting legislation for the program. Leading the group is Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David, who said in addition to the report, the group will use input from the public to inform their work about how different areas of the state will be impacted in varying ways.
“Urban communities may be very differently impacted than rural communities. Where you place dispensaries are going to be informed by where you live. Access to certain products are going to be different depending on where you live as well,” said David.
University at Buffalo Associate Dean for Research R. Lorraine Collins studies substance abuse and is a member of the working group as well, and said New York’s approach to addressing regulated marijuana with public input is different than the way many other states have approached legalization.
“A lot of those states went ahead, sometimes even – in the case of California – with propositions. And the legislators and governor really did not weigh in at all. It was very much from grassroots efforts and advocacy,” said Collins.
The first of 15 listening sessions took place in early September in Albany. The most recent was Tuesday night in Binghamton. Topics being covered include reducing the harms of illicit marijuana, reducing use of the unregulated market, addressing public safety, and the use of tax revenue.
There have been common themes among the concerns of residents at other sessions, according to David.
“They want us to address prior criminal convictions and address the harms in certain communities of color. Many people have been arrested in the past for marijuana possession or distribution. And there have been a lot of concerns about addressing those in this legislation.”
Collins said there are many issues for the public to consider, including the complexity of marijuana. She hopes New York State will try to contribute to research and develop a better understanding of the cannabis plant and its health effects.
“That is, I think, a huge issue at this point,” said Collins. “We have policies that are being made without an understanding of the substance that we’re trying to regulate.”
Once the listening sessions are completed in mid-October, the working group will analyze the results and continue to draft legislation. David said he expects they’ll have it ready for the start of the legislative session in 2019.
Medical marijuana has already been legalized in 31 states. It’s legal for recreational use in nine. And while the U.S. federal government still considers it an illegal drug, the country’s neighbors to the north in Canada legalized it nationwide in June, with the law going into effect this month.
The local listening session is free and open to the public and will take place in Cheektowaga Wednesday night from 6-8 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Buffalo International Airport, 4600 Genesee Street. Online registration is required and can be completed at the state’s website.
Looking for more information about regulated marijuana in New York State? Here are some of the sites WBFO’s Avery Schneider used in his research:
- NYSDOH Report: Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State
- Department of Health: Regulated Marijuana
- Assessing regulated Marijuana in New York
- Governor Cuomo Announces Workgroup to Draft Legislation for Regulated Adult-Use Marijuana Program
- ProCon.org: 31 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC