Lawmakers had the dubious task Thursday of opening the floor to arguments for the legalization of marijuana in New York.
This week, Vermont and New Hampshire moved to legalize cannabis for adult use. This signified a major step in states’ acceptance of the plant along the East Coast, and in their opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenacious stance. In New York, where legislators have largely left drug laws unchanged, a panel of lawmakers heard testimony from some of the state’s most experienced.
Members meet to discuss
On Thursday morning, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse met at a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), aimed to legalize the use, distribution, and production of cannabis for adults aged 21 and over. Rather than simply focusing on whether the state should end the prohibition of recreational marijuana, Assembly members asked pointed questions about what legalization should look like.
“I know there’s industry in the room,” said Kassandra Frederique, director of the New York chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“We will fight you tooth and nail every day if New York is set to create an industry that continues the subjugation and stealing of wealth from communities of color.”
Dr. Malik Burnett is a physician, and advocate who helped shape marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. He said lawmakers considering legalizing recreational use should prohibit the type of vertical integration that has created a marijuana oligopoly here. New York’s medical program has so far required each licensed company to be responsible for multiple stages of production. In this case, growing, processing and distributing cannabis.
Legalization Marijuana Poll
In light of growing national support over for legalizing marijuana, Quinnipiac University released a poll Thursday. And they found that 58 percent of Americans want it decriminalized. State Assembly. Richard Gottfried, who chairs the assembly’s health committee, said the state needed to take a serious look at its antiquated drug enforcement laws.
“We want to hear from a diverse group,” Gottfried said.
When the state last looked at marijuana laws 40 years ago, it decriminalized nonpublic possession of small amounts of the plant. Currently, New Yorkers can legally obtain marijuana for medicinal use. However, they must be approved by a medical professional and the state.
Professionals and Advocates alike.
Medical professionals, nonprofit groups, and other individuals testified during Thursday’s hearing in New York. They stated they would benefit in several ways from allowing the regulated sale of cannabis to adults. Dr. Julia Holland is a member of the nonprofit group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. She noted that early studies have shown that crime rates and teen pot use have declined in states that legalized marijuana.
“States like Washington and Colorado show that legalization of cannabis works,” she said.
Sheriff Barry Virts, the incoming president of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, voiced concerns about the possible rule change. He said his officers are worried about an increase in drivers who get behind the wheel while high. In addition, Virts said one of his sons has battled drug addiction. He added that he worries that legal marijuana could add to the state’s growing opioid epidemic.
“When so many of our friends and loved ones are battling addiction problems, it seems counter intuitive,” he said.
However, Dr. Julia Arnsten, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said studies have shown that marijuana has had the exact opposite effect in states that legalized the substance. Deaths from pain medication overdoses were down 25 percent in states with legal pot. “These findings support the conclusion that people turn to marijuana instead of opioid medications,” she said.
What’s in store for New York?
The association represents the first five companies licensed under New York’s medical program. They are invested substantially in startup costs while waiting patiently for the market to grow. The state has since extended licenses to five additional medical cannabis companies. In addition, the trade group sued the state in an effort to prevent the new companies from operating.
It will ultimately be up to state legislators to decide how to handle this massive issue. However, witnesses at today’s hearing hope that the evidence and experiences they share will help New York lawmakers. It comes down to acknowledging voters’ demands and the recommendations of legal and medical experts.